OLEAN — The Taste of Olean has for 26 years given local residents a chance to indulge their tastebuds with all Olean has to offer. It’s a “meal hunt through the park,” said Meme Yanetsko, chief operating officer for Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce (GOACC).
Yet this Sunday’s Taste of Olean, held in War Veterans Park along with Art in the Park, could be the annual event’s final year.
When GOACC, which co-sponsors the event, sent out surveys to local restaurants for this year’s Taste, it included a warning: We may not do this next year.
The Taste of Olean has seen a decreasing number of vendors in recent years. Whereas it used to have numbers like 20 to 25, Sunday’s event will only 14 — the lowest the event has had in at least a decade. Six of the 14 are only serving either beverages or desserts.
“A lot of restaurants have closed shop, a lot of them have cut down their staff, but some don’t see the value,” said Yanetsko. “And that’s the only thing that really discourages me that they chose to not participate in this. We’re doing this really for the restaurants. It’s their time to shine, their time to show off their menus and it’s just discouraging that I don’t have five or six more for this thing.”
Although Yanetsko said this year’s event will still feature a great menu — such as burritos, Texas-fried steaks, chocolate and peanut butter decadence, and several new restaurants that residents may not have tried yet — she wants to stress the event may not continue if more restaurants do not get involved.
“I still encourage everyone to come out,” she said. “You just always want to have more.”
While Yanetsko admitted participating in the Taste of Olean for restaurants is time consuming and several hours away from their locations, the idea is for them to get as many new customers as possible. Last year, some vendors saw increased sales due to less options, but Yanetsko said that resulted in lower ticket sales than past years.
“We want this to be great and although this a great menu (this year) … we want to make sure the customers are happy,” Yanetsko said. “And I don’t know if they’ll be happy with the (14). I don’t know if they're expecting more.”
The vendors that will be there Sunday include a few locations that have opened within the past 18 months, including Four Mile Brewing, and Ravyn and Robyn. Yanetsko expects it may be many residents’ first-time experience trying them.
“Those guys are fairly all new to the restaurant scene. Many people have not even tried many of them,” Yanetsko said. “For new restaurants, obviously, this is a great idea to come down and having people try out your food, whereas they might be intimidated to come into your place.”
And even the longstanding restaurants will have new menu options.
Yanetsko always encourages restaurants to not bring the same food or just their bestsellers to Taste of Olean. That’s because Taste of Olean allows restaurants a chance to give customers small tastes of potential new menu items, and see how well it sells.
“We want this to be tastes,” Yanetsko said. “We want people to sample all of them and, obviously, not get filled up after one or two tastes.”
She said the small portions, which usually cost just a couple 50-cent tickets, are good because if people love them, they can get more. If they don’t, they can “give it to (their) husband.”
“He’ll probably finish it for you,” Yanetsko said with a laugh.
The 67th annual Art in the Park will also be held Sunday. It’s sponsored by the Cattaraugus County Arts Council and will showcase artists from around the Southern Tier.
“It’s great that we have all those artists in one place,” Yanetsko said. “So having all that talent in one place is a great opportunity to browse and shop for fine art here in Olean.”
There will be more to do Sunday than just eat or appreciate art. The Genesee Valley Central School will bring its competing robots, ROBO-JAGs. Also, the William O. Smith Recreation Center swimming pool will be open with free admission from noon to 5 p.m., courtesy of the GOACC’s corporate sponsors and the city of Olean youth and recreation staff will host a basketball clinic.
After a number of years at Jamestown Community College’s Cattaraugus County Campus, this will be the event’s first time in War Veterans Park, due to the construction on North Union Street. The city will have an electrician on-site in the morning to make sure the event has enough electricity.
There will also be a bounce house from the Olean Family YMCA and activities like balloon animals.
Admission for Taste of Olean and Art in the Park is free. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I think we have a great variety,” Yanetsko said. “Obviously, the city of Olean and the area have a plentiful (amount) of different restaurants, and they all have different cuisines so it’s going be a hard choice for people to pick one to go after.”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)