For 31 years, the Illinois Restaurant Association has had the contract for the Taste of Chicago— earning six figure management fees. But with the festival losing $7 million in the last three years (not to mention eliciting mockery for its retro portrayal of Chicago’s food scene as being all about deep-fried cheesecake), the Emanuel administration is putting it up for bid again, to see if somebody’s out there who can come up with a better way to run it— and produce revenue rather than a deficit.
Last year, the restaurant association itself was involved with a novel plan in which a $20 admission would have been charged to the festival itself and as much as $65 for certain performances. That plan was developed in association with concert promoters JAM Productions and AEG Live, and clearly seems to have been modeled on successful festivals such as Lollapalooza. Despite the fact that the restaurant association is headed by an ultimate Daley insider, former mayoral chief of staff Sheila O’Grady, the then-mayor’s reaction to charging for the Taste was fast and derisive, and he pledged to keep admission free forever. But it seems likely that any new plan will introduce some new revenue source related to the entertainment.
The question for us is whether someone will look at improving the food as a way to improve revenues. Maybe the acres of fried-food stands are inevitable for the masses, but there ought to be some way to create events within the festival that showcase the genuine glories of Chicago cooking— and make the city money. That said, in a city full of such events virtually year-round, including some very notable ones in the summer (Chicago Gourmet, the Green City Market Chef’s BBQ, etc.), the Taste would have to come up with some pretty cool plans to convince name chefs that they want to be cooking within smelling range of the Taste’s traditional fare.
Taste of Chicago’s management could change [Sun-Times]
Previously: A Smaller, Better Taste of Chicago?