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Second annual event brings hungry crowd

One of the main goals of Ironton civic group Ironton aLive is to bring people to downtown Ironton. On Saturday, the group’s second annual Taste of Ironton event accomplished just that as around 1,000 people flocked to the Ironton Farmers Market Square throughout the four-hour event.

“We were expecting a big crowd and we were expecting it to be hot, and we got both,” Sam Heighton, executive director of Ironton aLive, said. “We also had a full farmers market today, so everyone mingles both places and we hope to get some new faces coming to the farmers market. We’re happy.”

Nineteen restaurants and catering vendors took part, offering samples of signature dishes for the community to try.

Due to the large number of people at last year’s event, this year’s edition was set up a little different in order to accommodate the demand a little better.

“This year we put the vendors around the perimeter of the parking lot rather than in the middle with a buffet line like it was last year,” Ironton aLive chairman Ginger Gillenwater said. “This year people can just go up to whichever vendors they want and everything is moving a lot smoother. We’re happy with it.”

Tents with tables for dining were still set up in the middle of the parking lot, seating 125 people at any given time.

Gillenwater said last year the event was a collaborative group effort, but this year, Ironton aLive promotions chair Jenny Mays took over as the Taste of Ironton chairman.

“Having a good manager in front of it makes a big difference,” Gillenwater said. “She did a great job getting in contact with the restaurants and getting everyone together to do different jobs to make it run better.”

Participating in the Taste of Ironton were Buffalo Wild Wings, Tipton’s, the End Zone, Rax, The Depot, Holy Smokes BBQ, Frisch’s Big Boy, Ohio University Southern Southernmost Café, Catering with Joy, Sta-Tan, McDonald’s, Transit Café, Marco’s Pizza, Coal Grove Giovanni’s, Spice of Life, Shake Shoppe, Little Caesar’s, Pick n’ Save and Melini Cucina.

“It’s a great thing,” Shawn Jones, co-owner of private catering company Holy Smokes BBQ, said about the event. “I came last year just as someone who was buying. They contacted (owner) Jay (Zornes) about being a part of it this year because they knew we make pulled pork.”

Jones added that Holy Smokes BBQ gives a $1,000 scholarship to an Ironton High School graduating senior each year, and this was going to be how they fund that.

Tasting tickets were $1 each or a book of 10 for $10. At the end of the event, Ironton aLive collects the tickets from each vendor and gives them back 75 percent of what was made.

Shawn Aldridge, manager of the Ohio University Southern Southernmost Café, said the event is a big boost for his restaurant as well as a good opportunity for the community to try the food offered.

“We’ve been wanting to reach out to the community and let them know that we’re open to the public and not just to our students,” he said. “This is a good place to be able to do that.”

Aldridge said that the café opened in January of this year, and although it is closed for the summer, it will open back up again at the beginning of the fall semester.

Also available at the event were free inflatables from BC Tool and Rental for the children and live music by Dick’s Music Shop lessonaires. Volunteers from STAR Community Justice Center also helped out with various tasks.

The Taste of Ironton was the second event in the last five days bringing a large crowd to downtown Ironton, adding to the collaborative Ironton civic group community block party on Tuesday.

“It brings people downtown and businesses really benefit from it as well,” Heighton said. “That’s our goal.”