Sweet taste of success for Spruce Street


BY Helaina N. Hovitz

Last Sunday, Front Street became a sea of food, face painters, and families at the first annual Taste of the Seaport. Some believe it blew its parent event, the Taste of Front Street, right out of the water.

The 23 participating vendors served up something for everybody. The biggest hits with the kids were the macaroni with Sunday gravy from Table Tales, and the tiny cupcakes baked by Made Fresh Daily. But some more refined diners, like 10-year-old Olive Yourke, preferred the Croque Monsieur from Stella’s.

“I’m a fancy dinner kind of gal,” she explained.

As she showed off the tiny tiger painted on her cheek, she added, “I also really like that they painted a little design on my face, instead of painting my whole face like the little kids do.”

Jack’s Coffee paid to have face painters transform the children into tigers and butterflies, giving them a taste of Halloween, rather than a taste of caffeine, a week early.

Olive’s mother, Kate, art director of the Quad, manned a crafts table sponsored by the recreational center for “twice-exceptional” children. Kids ate free mini-muffins as they made gooey slime out of Elmer’s glue and hammered wire jewelry. Yourke estimated that at least one hundred kids stopped to work at the table that day.

Following in the footsteps of the Taste of Tribeca, which takes place every spring, Taste of the Seaport was a fundraiser for the P.S.397, the Spruce Street School.

In addition to raising money for the school’s Parent Teacher Association, the event also aimed to draw attention to the local businesses, mainly restaurants and wine bars that have moved into the area over the past five years.

Many attributed the event’s success to the warm autumn weather, while others believed that it was the inclusion of restaurants from the South Street Seaport that brought in a tremendous amount of foot traffic.

In contrast, the Taste of Front Street took place on a hot, humid summer day back in June, and only the restaurants on Front Street and Peck Slip were able to participate. The pilot program, while successful, did not draw the crowds that proprietors and parents had expected. This time around, General Growth Properties, one of the event’s main sponsors, hired an event consultant, and gave advertising sponsors full access to their public relations firm.

“People have been coming back and buying two, three, four more tickets because they love the food so much,” said Wendy Juan, treasurer of the Spruce Street School P.T.A., who worked the ticket booth. “We must have sold 200 tickets so far, and one guy just handed me cash and left because he wanted to donate money to the school!”

The zesty Gulf Coast Gumbo from the Cowgirl Seahorse was a favorite among the adults, who had devoured several gallons of the soup by the event’s halfway mark.

“This event brought more people than the last one because people are identifying it with the Seaport,” said Michelle Wakefield, partner at the Cowgirl Seahorse. “Plus, we’re getting all the foot traffic from the Seaport, and the walk for diabetes that’s going on.”

The event also drew attention by hosting live music by Austin McCutchen and Supercute, while DJ Bill Pearis spun between sets. The Seaport hired the musicians, and covered overall permitting and production costs.

Tiffany Lopes, who works at Pace University, made a point to commute from Brooklyn to attend the event. While the food was great, she said, what really struck her was the turnout.

“It’s so nice to see people down here doing something community based,” she said. “People don’t really know what’s down here, because they think that the Financial District shuts down at 5 p.m.”

Roger Bentley, who designed the fliers for the event, was worried the weather would keep the crowds away and the caterers cranky, and was grateful for both the sunny day and the throngs of enthusiastic neighbors.

“I’ve lived here for 11 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this. A new neighborhood, new families, and new schools coming together at the same time,” he said as he pointed out parents from P.S.150, P.S.234, and P.S.89, all public elementary schools on Lower Manhattan’s West Side.

In addition to raising money and public awareness, the event also managed to persuade a few picky eaters to give new foods a try. Bentley’s seven-year-old son, Owen, especially loved the four-cheese pizza from Il Brigante.

“I’ve never had blue cheese before,” he said. “But when I tried it today, I loved it! I can’t wait to try more.”

The slice was also a favorite of Molly Garcia, a fifth grader at P.S.150 who lives in the neighborhood.

“I was looking forward to this for weeks,” she said between bites.

Close by was her father, Daryl, who polished off a heaping plate of rice, beans, and ropa vieja from Salud as he took in the ambiance.

“It’s really cool of them to shut down the street like this. There’s such a great family atmosphere here today,” he said. “There’s a good mix of people both from the neighborhood and from out of town, and lots of families are here together.”

Event coordinators estimated that 2,500 people took a walk down Front Street between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and believed that holding the event on the same day as the New Amsterdam Market and Seaport Marketplace contributed to the large turnout.

Some vendors even donated money to the school in addition to covering the expenses of providing food for the event.

“The restaurants have been so generous, and the tastes were delicious,” said Karen Stonely, vice president of the Spruce Street School P.T.A.

The proprietors were happy to oblige.

“We’re thrilled to be able to contribute to the school—and now we can actually feed the kids,” said Calli Lerner, co-owner of winery Bin 220, who plans to open up yet another Front Street spot farther down the block and serve comfort food to neighborhood families. “The school is part of our community now, and it’s nice to see all the kids having such a great time out here,” said Lerner.

At press time, the Taste of the Seaport Committee was still in the process of reconciling all of the credit card and merchandise sales, but according to committee chair Learan Kahanov, ticket sales and corporate and personal donations should add up to more than double the earnings from the June event, which raised $7,500.

“It is a great feeling to know that as our school is growing every year, so is our community support,” said Kahanov, whose son Ilan, 6, was part of the school’s inaugural class last year. “I hope word will get out so by next year, people will look forward to the Taste of the Seaport like they do many other annual Downtown event mainstays.”