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More than 4,000 people attended the first ever Taste of Springfield on July 30 based on ticket sales, according to Springfield Town Center marketing director Kimberly Baldy. in the parking lot alongside Frontier Drive at Springfield Town Center, the food tasting festival invited community members to spend an afternoon sampling some of the culinary offerings available in the local Springfield and Fairfax County area.
Springfield Town Center management came up with the idea for a Taste of Springfield event as a means of promoting the local restaurant scene while also potentially attracting new visitors to the shopping mall, which reopened about three years ago after undergoing extensive renovations.
“We just felt like Springfield didn’t have an event like this,” Baldy said. “We’re hoping to make this an annual event around the same time every yearIt looks like a very successful event, and we’re very pleased so far.”
To put on the event, Springfield Town Center teamed up with Kojam Productions, an event planning company based in Woodbridge that has organized similar endeavors, such as Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center’s Taste of Woodbridge on June 10.
According to Baldy, event organizers primarily focused on recruiting restaurants and eateries from the Springfield area, including ones in the town center, but they also invited vendors and exhibitors from the county at large.
In total, about 20 food vendors and 40 exhibitors ranging from home improvement companies to boutiques selling jewelry or bath products participated in Taste of Springfield.
In addition to some chain outlets, such as Panda Express and Maggiano’s Little Italy, the festival featured several food trucks and catering companies. Barbeque joints and dessert offerings were in particular abundance. Army veteran David Galloway founded Blue Southern Barbeque, a catering company, three years ago around the same time that Taste of Woodbridge first started. Through that festival, he met Kojam Productions owner Karen Joyner, who alerted him that the Taste of Springfield was looking for vendors.
The Blue Southern Barbeque stand offered classic southern dishes, including Mac and cheese, green beans, baked beans, pulled pork and chicken, and brisket, which is Galloway’s specialty.
“It allows people to taste different things,” Galloway said regarding the importance of events like Taste of Springfield. “You’ve got a lot of big box vendors out here, and people get tired of the same old thing. They’re not sure what’s out there. It allows smaller businesses like mine to get out there and allow people to taste our food.”
Taste of Springfield also offered more exposure for outlets in Springfield Town Center.
Shyann Trujillo, for example, owns the town center location of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
Offering a variety of chocolate samples to Taste of Springfield visitors,
Trujillo says that the franchise has been getting more business as the mall has gotten more popular, but a festival like this still provides more visibility, particularly for people who have not visited the mall but might notice the event when they drive past.
“There are still a lot of people who don’t know we exist, so we’re just trying to get our name out there still,” Trujillo said.
Along with food vendors and general exhibitors, Springfield Town Center offered a rock climbing wall and two moon bounce castles to enhance the family friendly atmosphere of the event.
Admission to Taste of Springfield was free, but visitors had to purchase tasting tickets for $1 each in order to buy food.
Reston resident Martha Brooks heard about Taste of Springfield through her son, who lives in Springfield, and ventured down with her family to compare it to the Taste of Reston, which has been around for more than 25 years and promotes itself as the largest outdoor food festival in the Northern Virginia area.
Brooks says she liked that Taste of Springfield was smaller and easier to navigate than its Reston counterpart, but she had some reservations about the ticketing system.
“I prefer to just do cash, but if they want to do tickets, I can live with it,” Brooks said after polishing off a snow cone. “You go someplace and you’re short one ticket, so I’d rather do cash, but other than that, it’s great.”
According to Baldy, Springfield Town Center opted to have Taste of Springfield customers use tickets instead of directly paying with cash in order to “eliminate the need for vendors to use change, thus increasing the speed of service for patrons.”
While event organizers solicited feedback from vendors and exhibitors regarding possible improvements, Baldy says that they hope to not only have all Springfield Town Center restaurants and eateries participating next year, but also reach out to more venues in the wider Springfield area and Fairfax County.
She predicts that they could double the number of vendors when Taste of Springfield returns in 2018.
For now, though, Taste of Springfield visitors seemed to like the event’s relatively modest size.
“What I like about it is it’s not a large event,” Springfield resident Chris Torres said. “It’s still a fairly small crowd, which is nice. You’re not fighting the crowd.”
Springfield resident Meg Horan attended Taste of Springfield with her husband, Mike. They both approved of the variety of vendors, and she said she was glad that the organizers had postponed the festival, which was originally scheduled for July 29 but was moved back a day due to the threat of rain.
“They could have a few more tables for people to eat,” Horan said of recommendations for future Taste of Springfield iterations. “That would be the only thing, I think.”
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