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Taste Attendance Losses Minimal, City Says

By Ted Cox | July 14, 2014 10:04am | Updated on July 14, 2014 12:35pm
 Jeff Tweedy is getting paid by the city, even though his Saturday concert at the Taste of Chicago was rained out.
Jeff Tweedy is getting paid by the city, even though his Saturday concert at the Taste of Chicago was rained out.
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Getty Images / Juan Naharro Gimenez

CITY HALL — Even with Saturday a washout, the Taste of Chicago still drew 1.1 million visitors this year, according to the mayor's office.

The rejuvenated Taste attracted 1.5 million last year, when it turned a profit for the first time in years. But this year's attendance was down even from the 1.2 million who turned out in 2012.

"For the past three years, the Taste of Chicago has added new features to enhance the festival and attract new audiences," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "New restaurants, food trucks and top national talent have given new reason for residents and visitors to flock to our city’s front yard and experience why we are the ‘Culinary Capital of America.'"

Still, turning a profit could be more problematic this year. The city will pay Jeff Tweedy and Lucinda Williams, who were slated to perform at the Petrillo Music Shell on Saturday before the city had to call off the fest for the day because of heavy rains and flooding.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which puts on the Taste, was expected to give more detailed data on sales and net revenue in the weeks ahead.

"Saturday was a tough decision, but safety is our first priority," department spokeswoman Mary May said. "Sunday was a great day."

"I understand that safety is always a concern," said Charlie Robinson, owner of Robinson's No. 1 Ribs, a perennial Taste favorite. Yet he called the loss of one of the five days the Taste  "a tremendous hurt," and estimated sales were down overall about 30 percent.

"I don't know who made the decision to shut it down," Robinson added. "We actually had about seven, eight hours of no rain" after the decision was announced Saturday.

The department blamed standing water after the morning rains for the cancelation.

"We were down big time," Robinson said. "I don't know what really happened this year. On Wednesday and Thursday, we just didn't get the turnout." He questioned the bookings with "no big draw," the way Robin Thicke attracted fans to last year's fest, including a gyrating Emanuel.

May said "final sales and revenue will be available when all accounting is reconciled at a later date." She could not comment on if there were any chance the Tweedy-Williams concert would be rescheduled. As it stands, those who bought tickets for the concert will get refunds.

The 34th annual food festival, held in Grant Park, played host to 64 restaurants and food trucks, 21 of them taking part for the first time.

"You can't cry over spilt milk, but we did get some good milk yesterday," Robinson said Monday. Even so, he added, "We had a lot of product we had to bring back, so hopefully we can get it used up" at his Oak Park restaurant.

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