BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED, FIREWORKS PHOTO BY DAVE SCHMIDT
Occupying a mere block-long stretch on Columbia Street, organizers led by Steve Klink promised a 12-hour day of good food and door prizes in front of Loeb’s Department Store.
Proceeds would benefit the Tippecanoe Arts Federation.
Offerings included knackwurst and bratwurst, Teriyaki steak kabobs, oysters on the half shell and crab puffs. All that for a $1 admission plus free Coca-Cola and a chance to win door prizes and gift certificates every hour.
Loeb’s is now a distant memory for long-time residents of Lafayette. So, too, are many of the 12 local businesses that participated in the first Taste: Alt Heidelberg, Amato’s, Sarge Oak, Hour Time, Butterfield’s, Cork and Cleaver and Don the Beachcomber’s.
Gone, too, is the $1 admission price. Today, admission to the Taste is $10 for persons 13 and older. But it’s well worth the price
Digby’s, The Parthenon, Mountain Jack’s, The Downtowner and Red Lobster are the only existing businesses that helped launch what is now a 40-year-old tradition. And what a tradition it has become.
By 1991, the event had outgrown its one-block home and attracted 22,000 people to Sixth Street. Even that space was too cramped for two stages and an ever-growing amount of restaurant booths.
With 30 restaurants and an estimated crowd of 40,000, the 20th Taste of Tippecanoe in 2001 was spread out over Riehle Plaza, the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge, and the downtown area between Third Street to the east, Ferry Street to the north and Columbia Street to the south.
In 2019, three stages were set up along Second and Ferry streets, Fourth Street, and Fifth and Main.
That tradition was disrupted this past summer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tippecanoe Arts Federation was forced to severely curtail its major fundraising effort of the year, settling for an online presence of live musical performances over Facebook Live.
Kyra Clark, marketing and events director for the Tippecanoe Arts Federation, says it’s safe to say that this year’s Taste of Tippecanoe, scheduled for July 31, may be the most important Taste since the first event.
“The Taste is our major fundraiser and the largest single-day arts fundraiser in Indiana,” Clark says. “It’s incredibly important for us to fundraise and get with the community.”
To make it as safe as possible for visitors, the Taste of Tippecanoe will be spread over a large area of downtown surrounding Riehle Plaza and the Tippecanoe County Courthouse. Also, there will be just two stages this year for live entertainment.
“We’ve increased the size of the footprint to make it a little easier for people to sit down and appreciate the food and the local restaurants that are going to be participating at the Taste,” Clark says.
“We are going to make things as safe as possible. We’re going to have hand-sanitizing stations, and all of our volunteers will be wearing masks. We will never hold an event that puts our community at risk. We are not going to be a superspreader event. We would never risk our relationship or our reputation with our supporters.”
If this year’s Taste is important to the Tippecanoe Arts Federation, it may be equally important to Greater Lafayette-area restaurants. Nearly every establishment has suffered from the government COVID-19 mandates that have kept away the usual numbers of customers.
But several local restaurants are bullish on the Taste of Tippecanoe. The Tippecanoe Arts Federation had 12 commitments by late February from Arni’s, Grilled Chicken and Rice, Corn in the USA, Dippin’ Dots, Gibson’s Shaved Ice, Indiana Kitchen Bacon, Java Roaster, Kona Ice of Tippecanoe County, Lepea, McGraw’s Steak Chop and Fish House, Red Bird Café and Thieme & Wagner.
“That’s pretty normal for this time of year,” Clark says, “but our goal is always 30 to 32 restaurants.”
The latter number is the most Clark has seen during her four years with TAF.
“This is an event where restaurants are incredibly busy, and it is an event where the majority of our restaurants sign up closer toward the event so they have an idea of staffing and timing,” Clark says.
Last year’s virtual event and the loss of revenue have forced more budget cuts than just the number of stages.
“The biggest change this year is that there will not be a fireworks show,” Clark says. “It was just something we could not fit in our budget.
“We’re saving a little bit of money, but we’re dedicating more space to the seating and the appreciation of the local restaurants. We’ve had to tighten our belt, but we’re working with what we’ve got and doing the best we can.”
Even with the pandemic still a concern, Clark is hoping that this summer’s Taste will be remembered as a celebration.
“The focus of this year’s event is celebrating 40 years of great Taste,” Clark says. “We’re super excited to be able to have an event again where we can provide local food to our community, especially at a time when our restaurants are hurting or struggling.
“This is an incredible marketing opportunity for them. Tens of thousands of people come downtown for this event. Obviously, with the COVID restrictions and the health guidelines, the attendance might look a little bit different this year, but we want that marketing opportunity and promotional opportunity for our restaurants and downtown businesses.”
For more information about Taste of Tippecanoe and updates on the event date and participating
businesses, visit tasteoftippecanoe.org. ★