WATERVILLE — Organizers for this year’s Taste of Greater Waterville are returning to the festival’s roots by offering a seated dining option, in addition to fast food and a la carte choices.
“Right now it’s more like a fair. It’s a wonderful event, but we wanted to get back to our original idea, which was fine dining,” said Jeff Corey, organizing committee chairman.
On Monday, the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the Taste, announced that tickets are now available for a portion of the event that organizers are calling The Sit-Down, where festival goers can order multicourse meals under the shade of trees lining Castonguay Square, on Common Street. The Sit-Down joins The A La Carte and The Bite in the day-long food fest.
This year’s Taste will be Wednesday, Aug. 7, on the city’s Concourse and will feature live music from three bands and a beer garden. Main and Appleton streets will be closed to traffic.
The Sit-Down reflects the original festival, which began in 1992 and included 16 restaurants serving full meals outdoors. That option eventually disappeared as its popularity waned and organizers wanted to make the festival more family-friendly, said Amy Sylvester, spokeswoman for the Chamber.
Corey, who was one of the event’s original organizers in 1992 and owns Day’s Jewelers in downtown Waterville, said the committee is hoping to bring back the feeling of the original festival.
“It was something classy with no paper or plastic, but with real silverware and glass,” he said. “Adding that back in means there is really something for everyone.”
Some local restaurants, however, said the challenges to putting on such an event have deterred them from participating.
Organizers said they hope to include three restuarants in The Sit-Down and on Monday, two restaurants had confirmed participation: Heritage House Restaurant in Skowhegan and 18 Below Raw Bar, Grill & Lounge in Waterville.
Travis LaJoy, owner of 18 Below, said the addition of a restaurant experience will provide a sophisticated appeal for those festival-goers who want one. He was originally hesitant to participate, he said, because of the challenges of putting on a large, outdoor dinner.
LaJoy, who formerly owned Classic Cafe on Kennedy Memorial Drive, which closed in 2000, said he has hosted sit-down dinners for the Taste in the past. It requires the right equipment to serve 50-100 people outside and enough staff to work the event, said LaJoy, who also plans to keep his restaurant open on festival day.
“It’s also hard to appeal to the masses because we are confined to serving one specific menu. We are a seafood restaurant, but not everyone likes or will eat seafood,” said LaJoy.
He said he’s still preparing his menu for the upcoming event.
The menu for Heritage House features a four-course meal for $40, including a seafood cocktail of Maine lobster, shrimp and crab meat; mixed greens with candied walnuts, pear tomatoes and homemade maple vinaigrette; balsamic charred beef tenderloin with herb fingerling potatoes and fresh vegetables; and a fresh berry crepe with Chantilly cream and chocolate drizzle.
There will be one seating for the sit-down meals, which will begin at 6 p.m. following a happy hour at 5 p.m. at The Sit-Down’s own bar, said Corey. The cost of drinks is not included in the meals.
Drew To, co-owner and general manager for Silver Street Tavern, said he was approached by festival organizers about participating in The Sit-Down but didn’t think it was feasible or cost-effective for his restaurant.
“It costs hundreds of dollars just to participate and there is no guarantee of a profit,” he said.
Participating means renting and setting up a tent and hiring extra people to staff the dinner, he said. There is also the cost of making sure the restaurant has enough silverware and china to serve additional people and other catering equipment.
The tavern plans on participating in the festival by extending its outdoor patio, offering local beer and live music and possibly setting up a food booth, said To.
“We are a business and we want to make a profit,” he said.
Joe Marcoux, owner of The Villager Family Restaurant, also said he chose not to participate in the Taste this year, although he has hosted sit-down dinners for some in the past. The main reason, he said, is because he is short-staffed and cannot afford to staff another dinner in addition to keeping his restaurant open, but also because the festival has changed over the years.
“It’s carnivalized. It’s not like it used to be. Dinner is a circus,” he said.
Sylvester said the Chamber understands the challenges to putting on a sit-down dinner and that they plan to start small as they reintroduce the idea. The original goal was to have three restaurants participate and they are still working on finding a third, she said.
“It doesn’t work for every restaurant. It’s a matter of finding one that is equipped and on board. We feel good about where we’re at right now,” she said.
For this year’s Taste, Main Street will host The A La Carte portion of the festival, where visitors can sample entrees, sides and desserts. Appleton Street, which winds around the northern side of the Concourse by the library, will feature The Bite, with festival food such as cotton candy, burgers, hot dogs and pizza by the slice.
Portland-based Rustic Overtones will perform at 9 p.m. Two other bands, Tricky Britches and The 220s, will open.
Tickets are required for The Sit-Down and can be bought at participating restaurants or by contacting the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368