Mix business and pleasure — of the gastronomic sort — at this year’s Taste of Altoona.
The annual event takes place Oct. 11, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Prairie Meadows Events & Conference Center. Presale tickets are $7, and $9 at the door. Children 5 and younger are free. Presale tickets will be available at the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce office until the day before the event.
Attendees will get a bargain night out that offers a smorgasbord of eats, along with the opportunity to get acquainted with local businesses, event organizers say. All the vendors are members of the Chamber, but do not have to be in the food industry to participate. A raffle will also give event goers the chance to win different prizes.
This year, attendees will be treated to everything from hot wings and meatballs, to tacos, dandelion soup and more, says Anne Schauwecker, event planner for the Chamber.
“It’s a good way for the businesses to get out there and for people to find out about businesses they never knew about,” Schauwecker says. “We want to engage the citizens of Altoona and the surrounding area and make them aware of all the wonderful things Altoona has to offer. It’s just a fun event where you can meet family and friends and have dinner with them.”
This year’s Taste of Altoona boasts several new additions, including more seating. The event is also going more high-tech with a scavenger hunt using QR codes, adds Schauwecker. People will need to download a QR code reader onto their smartphones to participate.
The first person to complete the hunt reaps the greatest prize, Schauwecker says, but all participants will receive some kind of reward.
This is also the first year they are partnering with the local Caring Hands Outreach Center. People can bring nonperishable items such as food and toiletry items to donate, Schauwecker says, which will earn them another chance to win a prize in the raffle.
Melissa Horton, executive director of the Chamber, says Taste of Altoona has grown in popularity with both businesses and the community since the first event in 2000. Attendance was 1,200 last year.
“It gets packed,” she says. “We had people waiting in line for about a half-hour before (the event began).”
Some of the congestion last year was due to construction taking place at Prairie Meadows, as well as traffic flow issues inside the event, Horton says. This year, the construction is complete, they’re working with a larger space and anticipate the flow to be smoother.
The first Taste of Altoona had between 150 and 200 attendees, Schauwecker says. The venue was the Za-Ga-Zig Shrine in Altoona, and there were 19 booths, all of which were businesses from the food industry. This year, there were 75 booths available.
Chamber member Norma Teuber volunteered at the Chamber for 13 years, retiring this summer. She’s assisted with every Taste of Altoona and seen the crowds grow and the venue move from locations including Adventureland Inn and Centennial Elementary.
Only Chamber members were invited to attend that first year, Teuber recalls. But as word got out and interest grew, so did Taste of Altoona.
“It just keeps getting better, and each year the crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she says. “The food is fantabulous. It’s a wonderful way to entertain. The kids get in free. It’s too good a deal — and people recognize that.”
Nancy Gill agrees that it’s a great bargain. She and her husband, Gordon, go every year, usually right at 5 o’clock, and stay for a couple of hours.
“I think it’s an eye-opener to all the restaurants and the new restaurants and the variety of foods that are available in Altoona,” Nancy says.
It’s also a reunion of sorts, says Gordon, who gets to visit with people he hasn’t seen in a long time.
“I think it’s a very good community project, and you get a lot of camaraderie at the event,” he says.
But the event does create a dilemma, Nancy says, laughing: You eat too much.
“If you go away from there hungry, it is your own fault,” she says. “Every vendor is very generous with their portions.”
Phyllis Murphy and her husband, Tom, are also fans of the event. They have taken relatives from Minnesota and many friends to Taste of Altoona. It’s always been a hit, says Phyllis, who has attended each year since its inception and volunteering every year until a few years ago.
“I cannot say that anyone was ever disappointed,” she says. “People have just been overwhelmed and thrilled.”
Phyllis, a Chamber member, looks forward to getting in there and trying everything. But she’s particularly fond of the root beer floats and tacos.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” she says of the event. “It’s a great way to showcase all of the businesses, whether they sell food or not, because a lot of the people don’t know these exist or are available in Altoona. Plus, it’s a good way to meet old friends.”
Taste of Altoona is great for families, particularly those with young children, says Kyle Mertz, a member of the Altoona City Council. Last year, Mertz, his wife, Amanda, and their son, Palmer, now 2, attended the event.
They look forward to it every year, says Mertz, who is hoping to see Palmer be more of a participant this year.
“Another thing that’s attractive to us is for us to see other young families and meet other young families, and for Palmer to meet other young kids his age,” Mertz says.
While young families will enjoy the gathering, Mertz lists the broad range of perks to the community. He says he appreciates the work on the part of the Chamber and its members in putting the event together.
“I think it adds wonderful value to our community,” he says. “I think it’s just a very unique and creative way for our Chamber members to showcase their business; it’s something different than a ribbon cutting,” he says.
It also offers businesses and residents the opportunity to try something different, meet a lot of people and come together as a community, Mertz adds.
“This is one of the events in the fall that everyone looks forward to because there’s not a lot of opportunity for everyone to come together and support one another.”