Tonawanda News

July 3, 2011

A behind-the-scenes 'Taste'

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

— — Angelo Turco has a photograph of his father Louie dressed in a hot dog costume hanging proudly on the wall of his home. That photo was taken in 1984 at the very first Taste of Buffalo, the year Louie’s Hot Dogs started participating in the country’s largest two-day food festival.

“We’ve been part in the Taste of Buffalo ever since the inception,” said Turco, owner of Louie’s Hot Dogs on Grand Island Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda.

For Louie’s, the Taste of Buffalo has become almost entangled with the history of the restaurant; but for another Tonawanda-area restaurant, The Grill at the Dome, it has perhaps helped put them on the map.

“I’ve definitely seen an uptick in business.” Edholm said. “Who knows (if it’s because of the Taste of Buffalo), but it can’t hurt.”

The million dollar question

Prepping for the event can take as long as a month, with many potatoes to be peeled and cut and just the right amount of meat to be ordered. The hardest part, Turco says, it figuring out just how much food to bring.

“It was funny, when we first did the Taste of Buffalo, I was a young boy and we went to the meeting and we were wondering how many hot dogs we should bring,” Turco said. “(Organizers said,) ‘As a rule of thumb whatever you’re thinking of bringing, bring twice that,’ and they were so right.”

Louie’s goes through about 10,000 hot dogs in just the two days of the event, about 3,000 to 4,000 hamburgers and so many sweet potato fries that the produce company just leaves their truck with Turco.

While this will be just his fourth year participating, Josh Edholm, co-owner of The Grill at the Dome on Brompton Road in the Town of Tonawanda, agrees that estimating volume can be a bit tricky.

“That’s probably the hardest part of it ... trying to figure out how much to make,” Edholm said. “Usually for us it’s a process really all year long. The actual food preparation we probably started about 3 weeks ago just so we’re not breaking our backs to get it done.”

Edholm says that figuring out just how much food to take along is “the million dollar question.” If it’s a particularly sunny weekend, he won’t deny that there are sometimes mad dashes to go grab some more food to serve.

“It’s really based on everything ... like weather. We try to go with about 5000 portions of each item and whether we have to add or subtract depends on the weekend. We’re seasoned a little now so we have a better idea of what goes on,” said Edholm.

What to eat

There are certain rules each restaurant must follow when it comes to choosing which items they’ll present at the festival. First, every dish must also be available as a regular menu item at the restaurant. After all, the food must be a true reflection of what the restaurant actually serves.

Second, participating restaurants must bring one healthy option, something the Taste of Buffalo has required for four years now. The item must contain no more than 30 percent of its calories from fat and should be lower in both cholesterol and sodium.

Louie’s will be serving their chicken sausage, which Turco describes as tasting just like their regular Italian sausage. The Grill at the Dome’s Bourbon-glazed shrimp skewers are not only their healthy option, but also their most popular.

“It’s one of those things, you see it and you just want to eat it,” Edholm said.

The third guideline restaurants must follow is that they must offer one item for just 4 tickets, called a “taste-sized” item. This is a new rule this year, aimed at making the Taste of Buffalo more affordable. Individuals could get a taste of 10 restaurants for $20 by sticking to taste-sized portions.

“I’d say the No. 1 complaint I hear about (the Taste of Buffalo) is that’s expensive ... it’s definitely not a cheap event. But we all have to do a taste portion this year ... which I think is pretty smart,” Edholm said. “With the new promotion, it might bring a few more people out.”

In addition to the bourbon-glazed shrimp, The Grill at the Dome will also be offering pulled-pork wraps with meat slow cooked in a smoker and sweet and spicy pasta with a sun-dried tomato and red pepper cream sauce.

Louie’s will offer hot dogs, hamburgers and sweet potato fries alongside their chicken sausage.

The payoff

Restaurants get a lot out of participating in the Taste of Buffalo, but just like the customers, they’re in it for a good time as well.

“You’re outside, there’s a ton of people and we talk to a lot of people,” Edholm said. “That’s what I like most about it, you get to talk to a lot of people. I’m probably down there 40 of the 48 hours of the weekend but I’d do it every weekend. There are not many options where you get that many people who may never have been in your place to put your food in their hands.”

For Edholm, it’s all about getting the restaurant’s name out there, talking to customers and the way he sees it, if he breaks even, it’s been a good weekend.

Turco has a different perspective on what he gets out of taking part in the event.

“It cements us as one of Buffalo’s top hot dog vendors,” Turco said. “Anybody who’s anybody is in the Taste of Buffalo. There are other hot dog operations in town that do a great job but to see us in the Taste just confirms that we’re rock solid and we’ve been around decades. For a company that’s been around for 60 years, it’s not introducing ourselves to the public, it’s reintroducing ourselves to the public.”

And if there’s one thing guests and restaurateurs alike can agree on is the hope for two clear, sunny days. A lot of folks will be keeping their fingers crossed.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 116.