Chef Bela Szalay compares the annual Taste of Michiana, now in its 25th year, to the Super Bowl when it comes to giving local restaurants a platform to reach lots of people at once.
“Bringing in the wineries and the mom and pop restaurants, this is like their Super Bowl commercial,” said Szalay, now in his fourth year of running the South Bend food festival. “This is their time to shine.”
This year, more than 2,500 attendees and a total of 42 vendors crammed comfortably around the Century Center’s main floor and ballroom for the event Wednesday evening, May 6.
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If Taste of Michiana is the Super Bowl, Lemon Creek Winery is the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale — Tim and Katie Lemon are fixtures at the event.
The Lemons, who co-own the Berrien Springs winery, have donated their time and wine each year since Taste of Michiana’s inception 25 years ago.
Szalay honored the couple’s continued commitment with a brief ceremony and speech during this year’s event.
“Our kids have grown up at this event. All of our kids have been here, working behind the table,” Katie Lemon said. “We’ve grown up with this event in our family. It’s very important and it’s very moving and we’re very honored to get recognition for our 25 years.”
PLATED TO PERFECTION
“I’m looking to meet new people, new chefs and restaurateurs who I’m not familiar with,” said Dickie’s executive chef Greg Schiesser. “I plan on being in this area for a long time.”
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Schiesser plated a smoked riblet with Asian barbecue sauce, apple raisin slaw and cilantro oil. The non-traditional combination of flavors likely made Schiesser a few friends throughout the evening and was as appealing to the palate as it was visually.
“It’s been fantastic,” said first-time attendee Anna Witges, who recently moved to the area from Michigan City. “I’ve been in the area for about a year, so I’ve heard about these restaurants, but I’ve never actually eaten at them. So, I’m very excited to taste and I will definitely will visit a few.”
Angela Logan, co-owner of AngLes Bar & Grill on S.R. 2 in South Bend, was part of the barbecue brigade. Logan’s cups of macaroni and cheese, rib tips and pulled pork were snatched up as quickly as she and her crew could set them down. This year was AngLes’ third year greeting guests eager to sample Logan’s southern cooking.
“It’s been good for us,” Logan said. “We get plenty of people that end up coming into the restaurant and saying that they heard about us or tasted the food down here for the first time and liked it so much that they came to the restaurant.”
Szalay’s Super Bowl commercial analogy is especially fitting for those restaurants still finding their feet in the local scene.
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According to Bloomberg Business, 60 percent of restaurants fail within the first three years of operation. Drawing in new diners is crucial to their continued success.
“It’s great advertisement to get our name out there,” said chef Kenny Slisz of Weiss’ Gasthaus in Roseland. “Still, not a lot of people know that there’s a German restaurant in town.”
The Taste of Michiana connects hundreds upon hundreds of food-and-drink-lovers with local purveyors who may not have the deepest of pockets for marketing.
“The Taste shows that growth is still in the community and that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing, that continued growth,” said Javier Mendez. “It helps us all, small businesses in South Bend, and anywhere really.”
Business isn’t the only thing the event benefits. Proceeds from ticket sales will support Jane’s House and Kernan’s Heroes, two programs at Life Treatment Centers that support women and veterans, respectively.