Get your fill of food and fun at the 14th annual Taste of Altoona, taking place Oct. 16.
The Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce hosts the family-friendly event, held from 5-8 p.m. at Prairie Meadows Events & Conference Center.
The annual gathering gives members of the Chamber a venue to court attendees with tasty treats while also sharing what their business or group is all about.
“The benefit for our Chamber members is exposure to over 1,400 community members and business colleagues,” says Beth Van Ryswyk, event planner with the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a chance to get your name out there and to get to know people on a personal level.”
Tickets are $7 in advance and $9 at the door. Admission is free for children ages 5 and younger. Tickets can be bought ahead of time at the Chamber office, located at 119 Second St. S.E., Suite A, in Altoona.
Close to 70 booths are expected this year, serving up sweet to savory and everything in between. There’s something to please everyone’s taste. The spread is expected to include fried tacos, soups and miniature sloppy joe sliders to fruit, cupcakes, cookies and cream puffs.
There are a couple of new additions this year as well. The first 500 people through the doors at the event will receive a reusable shopping bag, compliments of Chamber sponsors. Also, there’ll be a touch of Halloween with a new pumpkin carving contest.
Turnout to the Taste of Altoona has always been high, but last year’s was a record attendance of 1,400, Van Ryswyk says. The Chamber hopes to continue that upward trend this year and into the future.
“People just love the experience they have when they come here,” she says. “It’s a great community event that highlights our Chamber businesses. And who doesn’t want to try all those different foods?”
One possible reason for the higher numbers last year may have been the “cake war” competition, Van Ryswyk says. The Food Network-style battle pitted three local up-and-coming bakeries against one another. Contestants had to bake a cake and were given two hours at the event to decorate it. Attendees voted for the one that best captured the essence of Altoona.
The Chamber wanted to keep the momentum going, so the group’s board came up with the idea of a pumpkin carving contest this year.
“Guests loved the cake wars last year, so we wanted to provide them with some fresh fun,” Van Ryswyk says. “We are thrilled to have two of the contestants from last year’s cake competition in our membership.”
The pumpkin carving contest will be promoted to the public ahead of time. The first three groups of two to three people to sign up will be the contestants, she explains. Taste of Altoona attendees will vote to decide whose carved creation is the best, with the winner receiving a prize.
“We wanted something new and exciting, and we think this is the perfect thing,” Van Ryswyk says. “Guests will enjoy seeing what our contestants come up with and have fun voting for their favorite.”
And that’s not all tasters will be voting for. They’ll also get to decide who had the best food and who had the best decorated booth.
While booth sponsors do not have to be a restaurant to participate, they do have to be offering a food item, as well as be members of the Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce.
“If people are interested, we’d love to have them join the Chamber,” Van Ryswyk says.
Some event goers make it a point to attend Taste of Altoona each year. Others, like Keri and Stuart Quattlebaum, have yet to experience the annual affair.
The couple has lived in Altoona for almost three years. Seeing it advertised in magazines and hearing about it from others in the community has piqued Keri Quattlebaum’s interest.
It would let them check out some of the businesses they haven’t been able to get to, she says. She thinks they’ll try to make an extra effort to go this year.
“We just don’t get out much,” Keri Quattlebaum says. “I’d like to know more about the community I live in.”
They’ll also be more likely to go because it’s being held indoors at Prairie Meadows, in a controlled climate that will be easier on her migraines, she adds.
The Quattlebaums previously lived on the East Coast, including New York, Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina. The Midwest natives moved back to be closer to their families.
It’s been exciting to see such growth in Altoona in the short time they’ve lived here, she says.
For a town its size, it offers residents lots to do. Taste of Altoona is just one of them.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the city of Altoona,” Quattlebaum says.
While attendees tout the delicious variety of foods available and the great opportunity for businesses to get their names out there, there’s a big social component as well.
Roger Mahnke can attest to the professional and personal benefits of the event.
Mahnke is treasurer of the Altoona Lions and chairman of the Southeast Polk Dollars for Scholars program. He sets up booths for both organizations, which have been participating in the event for at least four or five years, he says.
Mahnke likes that Taste of Altoona gives exposure to both groups and offers the opportunity to share with the community their upcoming events and how the money they raise is spent.
It’s also a fun night out, he says, giving him a chance to visit with acquaintances he seldom sees and explore the range of foods.
“It’s always a joy to go around,” Mahnke says. “It’s really a social evening for me, along with setting up the booths.”
Altoona’s Mayor Skip Conkling thinks he may have missed just one year since Taste of Altoona began. He’s planning on going again this year, and says that his wife, who may be traveling then, is sad she won’t be able to make it.
“For me, it’s something to look forward to,” says Conkling.
He likes the fact that he gets to see all of his neighbors and friends. Not to mention, it’s a bargain.
“You go out for seven bucks ahead of time, or $9 at the door, and you get plenty to eat,” Conkling says. “You won’t need to go anywhere else after that.”
And businesses get a good deal as well.
“It’s a pretty cheap way to expose your business to residents,” he says, giving entrepreneurs in Altoona and the area the chance to showcase themselves.
The food-filled evening offers an all-around good time for everyone.
“I think the Taste of Altoona has become something that the residents all look forward to, and it’s a lot of fun,” says Conkling.