Some returning restaurants reported lower attendance at this year’s Taste of St. Louis, which was held this past weekend. Some restaurateurs attributed the lower attendance to the festival's new location in Chesterfield. Mike Kociela estimated 250,000 people came through the event, which was down by an estimated 50,000 or 100,000.
“I don’t think the numbers were there, but you have to remember that they’re basically building a whole new event,” said Niki Puto of Bogart’s Smokehouse. Regardless, Puto remains optimistic and felt the event introduced them to new audience.
This year, the Taste of St. Louis moved to Chesterfield from its usual location at Soldiers' Memorial in downtown St. Louis, a move that generated much controversy when it was announced in early March.
“It was a good learning lesson for us that there was a whole new market for us to tap in to,” Puto said. She said Bogart’s will try to tap into the West County market with a new advertising approach. “We were really, really happy with the venue,” she said.
Charlie Unger, from Frida’s Deli in University City, was less pleased. Unger worked the event this year and in 2013.
“We didn’t produce nearly the numbers we had last year. We’re talking about 40 percent loss from last year,” Unger said. The West County population isn't Frida’s audience, according to Unger. Frida’s menu consists of vegetarian, vegan and raw foods. He said the deli’s audience is primarily a younger, university-based crowd that would have attended the Taste downtown.
“Virtually none of those people were represented in Chesterfield,” said Unger. Despite that, Unger said the Taste is good for local restaurants.
“There really is a great sense of camaraderie in the restaurant community in St. Louis,” Unger said, “In a way it’s like a family reunion.”
Event organizer Mike Kociela had a more positive outlook. He said some years are better than others for individual restaurants.
“It’s never the same,” said Kociela. He pointed to the experience of Chesterfield restaurants such as Annie Gunn’s, which he characterized as “massively successful.” The organizer said fewer attendees were planned to make the event more manageable.
"The costs of accommodating that number of people outweighed the benefits," Kociela said.
Kociela described his joy at pulling up to the event on Saturday and encountering a group taking photos in front of the Taste of St. Louis banner. “It sunk in that we’re good to go and people are creating memories,” he said.
Still Kociela admits there was a change in Taste attendees. “It’s a different audience, there’s no doubt about it,” he said Kociela.
Kociela said West County residents were pleased with the event's new location and thought the event was success.