Taste of St. Louis begins today and closes Sunday. This year, the festival announced a change in location from downtown St. Louis to Chesterfield. The event’s relocation has been a hot-button issue for some St. Louis residents. Former school teacher and lifelong Ferguson resident Jerry Benner, 70, believes the change redefined the event.
“It’s not taste St. Louis. It’s taste of Chesterfield,” Benner said.
Benner’s position exemplifies a negative reaction to the new location. But event organizer Mike Kociela sees more positives. He stressed the weekend’s highlights: fireworks, 43 participating restaurants, performances by bands Big Head Todd and the Monsters and The Urge, and demonstrations by Food Network celebrities Tyler Florence and Duff Goldman. Kociela believes the event’s success will continue in the tradition of the previous nine years.
“The Taste is its own brand and its own business structure, so it’s really just moving that whole operation to a different part of town. And it’s been seamless, to be honest,” Kociela said.
But Benner worries the relocation removes the festival’s potential as a unifying event for St. Louis.
“The city of St. Louis is the hub. That’s where something like this belongs. It’s pulls people from north, south, east and west, rather than just from West County,” said Benner.
For him the downtown location was a chance to bridge the gap between the area's different cultures, black, white, Hispanic, Asian. “You’re all kind of mixed together, and I think that’s a very healthy way to integrate things,” said Benner.
Benner says events such as Taste are a chance to “desegregate” different St. Louis communities that can often be insular. Benner said he had no plans to attend the festival in Chesterfield, but would go if many of his friends asked him to go. Still, he believes the location undercuts the potential to bring people together.
Kociela was wrangling golf carts during set-up this week, when he spoke with St. Louis Public Radio. He said the decision to move the festival was financially motivated.
“It’s a business decision we have to make on how to run this event,” he said. He felt it would monetarily benefit the event to relocate it to Chesterfield. “It’s a very high risk event as far as finances go; and all things considered, we’re just moving forward and just getting past that whole deal, and we’re excited to be in our new location.”
Kociela’s voice was excited and he expressed his belief that this year Taste of St. Louis has the best line up it has ever featured. He focused on the festival’s offerings and attempts to positively distinguish this year from previous years.
“It’s something that hasn’t been offered here, pairing big food network celebrity chefs with big rock bands,” Kociela said. “So we’re kicking it up a notch for sure. It’s going to be an amazing event.”
The organizer understands some people might choose to stay home but isn’t worried about turnout. “It’d be their loss if they don’t come out but that’s OK too,” he said.
Taste of St. Louis will feature food by Annie Gunn’s, Edgewild Restaurant and Winery, Bogart’s Smokehouse and more St. Louis area restaurants. The event ends Sunday night with fireworks.
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This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. To see what other PIN sources had to say about moving the Taste of St. Louis to Chesterfield, click here. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.