Bring your appetite to the 13th annual Taste of Altoona, hosted by the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 17.
The menu includes plenty of food and tons of family-friendly fun.
“You won’t want to miss it,” says Beth Van Ryswyk, Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce event coordinator. “It has grown tremendously. This year, we’re expecting about 70 vendors and over 1,200 people.”
This year’s event will run from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Prairie Meadows Events and Conference Center. Tickets are $7 in advance or $9 at the door. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce office, 119 Second St. S.E., Suite A in Altoona.
As its name would imply, great tasting food is what Taste of Altoona is built on. This year’s event will feature around 70 different local businesses, and each of them will be offering a different sampling of food. Some of the many delectable treats expected to be available include hot wings, barbecue, mini tacos, grinder sandwiches, cactus bread, cream puffs and cupcakes.
New this year is a serious competition — a cake war.
Three local up-and-coming bakeries will face-off in a Food Network-style, head-to-head competition. Each bakery’s representative will be tasked with baking a cake and then decorating it at the event in a way that best captures the essence of the Altoona community.
The contestants will have two hours to decorate their cake, and attendees can vote throughout the night on their favorite.
“I’m a little nervous,” says one of the contestants. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
This contestant didn’t want to let the proverbial “cat out of the bag” about her plans for decorating the cake, but she says, “It will combine everything Altoona is all about.”
Van Ryswyk adds, “This is a great opportunity for these three bakeries to promote their business and support the city.”
The winner will be announced between 7 and 8 p.m.
Tasters will also get to vote on who served the best food and who had the best decorated booth. Both accolades are coveted.
Real estate agent Pennie Carroll and her famous mini tacos have been crowned champion of the event in the past, and she said she has her team ready to vie for another title.
“We roll out over 800 tacos that are handmade by family and staff,” she says. “It’s a great team-building experience. The facilities are great, and I like serving the community outside of my normal venue. Big thanks to the Altoona Chamber for putting on a great event.”
The Taste of Altoona event also serves as a business-outreach opportunity.
“The event gives businesses a chance to present themselves to the community,” says Altoona Mayor Skip Conkling. The reverse is also true. “It provides residents the opportunity to see what businesses are available in Altoona. We’ve really grown over the years.”
Space is limited for the event, but as of press time there were booths available for businesses that want to take part, says Van Ryswyk.
“If you want to become a vendor, there are still open spots, but they’re filling fast,” she says.
Van Ryswyk adds that a business does not need be a restaurant in order to participate, only that they have a tasty recipe.
Deery Brothers has decided to make a big splash and park a big shiny new truck inside the event.
All those wishing to be vendors must be members of the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce, but Van Ryswyk says it’s easy to become a chamber member.
“Just contact us at the chamber office, and we’ll get you set up. It’s definitely a fun way to promote your business,” he says.
It’s also a great place to take your kids. Van Ryswyk says the chamber strives to make all of their events very family-friendly. The low price of admission combined with the fact that children 5 years old and younger get in free helps make this popular event accessible to families.
“It’s always a good time for kids,” says long-time Taster Phyllis Murphy. “Just make sure you have an empty tummy when you come because you’ll get full. You never come away hungry.”
Tasters also have a chance to win big, says Van Ryswyk. This year, each attendee will have the chance to win one of three large door prizes. Although the chamber isn’t ready to announce what the prizes will be, Van Ryswyk guarantees they’ll be worth winning. The price of admission automatically gives each attendee an opportunity to win.
The Taste of Altoona is a great way to learn more about the businesses and people of the community. Tasters can also meet an greet candidates for city council. There will be an area set aside for people to meet the local leaders who are seeking office this November.
Taste of Altoona has become such a popular tradition that it attracts people from across central Iowa.
“We have people who come from all different communities, and we love that,” says Van Ryswyk. “We know of people who make the trip in from Des Moines, Mitchellville, Pleasant Hill, Bondurant and Ankeny.”
The locale is a prime drawing point as well.
“A lot of people in town (Des Moines) don’t often get a chance to see the facilities at Prairie Meadows,” says Altoona City Administrator Jeff Mark. “The conference center is very impressive. It’s a great chance to get out and meet people, and let’s face it, the food is good.”
“It’s a great event for the city and the chamber, there are always a lot of people and all the foods are my favorite. I’m sure I’ll be there,” says City Council member Mike Harmeyer.
With all the great food, prime location at Prairie Meadows, competitive cooking and prizes, one might expect a hefty price tag — but that’s not the case at all.
“It is such an incredibly cost-effective way to feed and please an entire family,” says Van Ryswyk.