Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Annual Taste of Wheaton gets a tune-up

Organizers add a second stage for more music at eclectic food-lovers’ festival

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Leah L. Jones⁄Special to The Gazette
Eleonara Lazzaro, co-owner of Lucia’s Authentic Italian Deli, stirs meatballs in the oven at her University Boulevard restaurant.
Expanding on last year’s effort to incorporate tastes with tunes, the 13th Annual Taste of Wheaton will offer even more live entertainment to accompany this year’s celebration of the downtown’s diverse cuisine.

In addition to the 22 restaurants and the 15 to 20 county agencies offering services and information, there also will be two stages with live entertainment. Activities will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday surrounding Parking Lot 13 at Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive in downtown Wheaton.

On one stage, the older crowd can enjoy the music of Chopteeth, Joe Falero and the D.C. Latin Jazz All Stars, The Groove Killers and Lea. The stage will be hosted by Denise Isaac from WZDC, the Telemundo affiliate of Washington, D.C.

New this year will be a second stage dedicated solely to children’s entertainment including D.C.-based children’s rock bands Rocknoceros and the Rhodes Tavern Troubadours as well as magic from Tim Hall of D’s Magic, who also will be the host of the children’s stage.

‘‘Obviously, the point of the event is to highlight the restaurants, but when you have kids running around, you want to keep them entertained,” said Sidney Cooper, the first-year marketing and events manager for the Wheaton Urban District. ‘‘We wanted something so it’s a festival-like feel, a lot of different diversions” that you can enjoy. Cooper said she expects upwards of 20,000 people.

In addition to the live entertainment, there will be booths with face painting, balloon animals, magicians and children’s rides.

David ‘‘Coach” Cotton, a vocalist and percussionist for Rocknoceros, describes his band as ‘‘Beatles-influenced.” The band has recorded an album titled ‘‘Dark Side of the MoonBounce” and include Boogie Woogie Benny, who plays piano, bass, guitar and two drums, all at the same time. Cotton said at larger events like the Taste, it’s difficult to keep the audience’s attention but it will provide the group great exposure.

‘‘If you can hold their attention for three songs, then you’re doing all right,” he said.

Because of the Taste’s growing, multifaceted festivities, the event has become a way to showcase Wheaton’s redevelopment and as one of the county’s three state-designated arts and entertainment districts, said Marian Fryer, a longtime Wheaton resident and member of the A&E Task Force.

‘‘We need visibility, so people know this is an area for people come to for the arts,” Fryer said, adding that the task force lobbied for the second stage of entertainment, which was ‘‘something we need to work on and make a big part of the Taste.”

While magic and music will give attendees plenty to enjoy, the event still revolves around food. The traditional restaurant booths and $1 specials will remain a staple, with mainstays like Marchone’s Italian Deli, Hollywood East Café and Royal Mile Pub participating.

Newcomers include Lucia’s Authentic Italian Deli, 2409 University Blvd., which reopened under its original ownership eight months ago after a 10-year stint with different owners. Lucia’s will offer pizza Calabrese, a recipe from the owners’ hometown of Calabria, calzones, eggplant parmesan and ziti for $1 each.

‘‘The customers are wonderful and I want to show appreciation to the county and to the public,” said Lucia’s co-owner Eleonora Lazzaro of her motivation for participating.

Other first-timers include Umberto’s, 11230 Grandview Ave., Peruvian-themed Crisp & Juicy in Westfield Plaza and Salvadoran-themed Intipuqueno, 2504 Ennalls Ave.

Cooper said first-time restaurants will have subsidized booths provided as part of the event’s estimated $30,000 budget, as well as volunteers from local schools. But some restaurant owners have found that the costs to participate outweigh the revenues.

Ian Morrison, owner of the Royal Mile Pub, a 26-year- old Price Avenue business that has registered for the Taste the last three years after having not participated since 2000, said it’s a great event for Wheaton but not necessarily for the bottom line.

‘‘There are a lot of negatives to do it and it’s not like I’m making money,” Morrison said. ‘‘It’s just marketing.”

Filippo Leo, owner of Marchone’s, which has participated in every Taste of Wheaton, said he ‘‘loses $600 to $700” for the event, but realizes its importance.

‘‘I know personally that it’s not to make money,” Leo said. ‘‘To me, it’s one of the greatest events for Wheaton.”

Have a Tasteof Wheaton

The 13th Annual Taste of Wheaton will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday surrounding Parking Lot 13 at Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive in downtown Wheaton. Food samples are $1. Call 240-777-8106.