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By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Now in it’s 17th year, Chowderfest is nothing less than a happening. Over time, it has ascended to a level where it rivals any event in this area. What makes Chowderfest distinctive is the time of year it occurs (this year’s event is on Saturday, Jan. 31 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), it’s tasty, and every year it keeps growing, growing, growing!
Last year, The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, which coordinates the event, was pleased to hit a high-mark of 86 chowder outlets throughout downtown Saratoga Springs. In 2015, they have 92 at press time. Even so, don’t expect anyone to be standing around with a ladle, because year after year, chowder-loving consumers (with an emphasis on “consume”) descend upon downtown regardless of weather. Last year, just over 130,000 servings were enjoyed by an estimated 30,000 people.
All the restaurants and purveyors are competing for your vote in a variety of categories. A triumph in any of them assures the winner bragging rights for an entire year. In fact, let us salute the 2014 winners one more time:
2014 Chowderfest Winners:
People's Choice - Merry Monk
Most Chowder Served - Druthers
Best On Broadway - Stadium Cafe
Best Off Broadway - Olde Bryan Inn
Best Dessert - Bettie's Cakes
Best Newcomer - Thirsty Owl
Best Non Downtown - Fifty South
Best Chowder - Under 1,000 Served - Panza’s Restaurant
Dog Chow Down - Milton Manor Pet Spa
It’s a point of pride that spurs participants go all out to win your vote, and you get to enjoy the delicious consequences!
As in previous years, the voting procedure is relatively simple:
- Pick up your official ballot at a number of places downtown.
- Now the fun: sample to your heart’s content. Chowders cost $1 for a 3 oz. sample. Taste as many chowders at as many locations as you like and when you spot a favorite, pick up one of the participants’ stickers and place it on your ballot (don’t worry – they’ll have plenty.)
- Completed ballots will have five stickers from participating businesses and can be turned in at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center or the Saratoga Springs City Center (11 a.m. - 4 p.m.) or the Saratoga Downtowner Motel (from 2 - 4 p.m.)
- For an additional $10, Chowderfest attendees with a completed ballot can take home an official long-sleeve Chowderfest T-shirt with this year’s logo (2XL shirts are $12.) These have become collector’s items – further evidence of Chowderfest’s popularity.
- The tabulations will be going on all afternoon and winners are to be announced inside the Saratoga Springs City Center at 6:30 p.m. that evening.
Other Highlights of Saturday’s Chowderfest:
- Free Shuttles
A great new addition to Chowderfest. You can avoid any parking inconveniences and get on a free shuttle from two locations. Buses will be running from the Wilton Mall at Saratoga (next to Dick’s Sporting Goods) to the Post Office, and from Saratoga Casino & Raceway (Jefferson Street Entrance) to Congress Park from 10-6. Just follow the parking signs at either location.
- Dog Chow Down
Also, coming back for the seventh year in a row will be the “Dog Chow Down,” with special chowders made for your canine friends. And at 1 p.m. the contestants making dog chowder will go head to head to win the coveted Best Dog Chowder trophy in the Saratoga Downtownerparking lot (413 Broadway.) The Chow Down will feature Mayor Joanne Yepsen and her dog; both will help to choose the trophy winner.
For more information, visit Discoversaratoga.org/Chowderfest or call (518) 584-1531.
Gavin Landry Recalls the Beginnings
NEW YORK – As it approaches its 16th edition this Saturday, Chowderfest has achieved iconic status. A signature event that is so intrinsically interwoven with the fabric of our lives that we sometimes assume that it always has been here.
But yes, there was a Saratoga before Chowderfest. It just wasn’t as tasty.
Just over sixteen years ago, Gavin Landry was President of the Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau when he formulated the concept of Chowderfest and presented it to the Winterfest committee at the Gideon Putnam Hotel.
At the time, it was presented as a way to augment the Winterfest week of events and, to an extent, generate a bridge with downtown Saratoga Springs with the activities going on in the Spa State Park. But within short order, while Winterfest continues to be a strong event to this day, there was no doubt that Chowderfest had dwarfed it in terms of popularity and participation.
Thanks to the groundwork Mr. Landry laid down sixteen years ago, Chowderfest grows larger each year. We reached him at his new post at Empire State Development in New York City, where he shared some insights into Chowderfest’s origins.
Looking back, How did you develop this idea?
GL: I created Chowderfest to generate tourism demand during a need time for Saratoga’s annual calendar. The idea behind Chowderfest was to help create awareness for the various wonderful restaurants that were members of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.
Who helped get things off the ground in the beginning?
GL: The key players that helped launch this initiative were Mark Baker, Jim Sheridan (Gideon Putnam), Denise McDonald and Joe Dalton. It could have never been accomplished without the help of our wonderful restaurateurs such as Steve Sullivan and the Morris Brothers and my great team at the Bureau especially Kathy Price and Kathy Denkenberger. They were a tremendous help to get it off the ground.
What were some of the major goals at the time?
GL: The goal was to invite trial by the people participating in Chowderfest. We wanted to drive them to the actual restaurant to experience it. The idea was to encourage future return trips by already having visited the restaurant; experiencing the décor, the ambience and knowing the distance the restaurant is from their home.
Do you remember how many participants there were in the early years?
GL: The first year we started, we had 16 restaurants join us. It resulted in 5,000 restaurant visits. Last year there were over 70 restaurants, bars and shops serving chowder. They served over 115,000 cups of chowder and the crowd was estimated at 20,000 – 25,000 people. This year, I’m told there are over 85 chowder vendors.
You probably have a few anecdotes and stories about the first years…
GL: Every year the Chowderfest ballot count grew and grew. I would have all the ballots put into boxes and delivered to the Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs. I would count them in by hand in order to do a notification the following day with the newspapers.
By the time I left the Bureau in 2007, it took me nine hours to tally up all the ballots. That year, it happened to be Super Bowl Sunday, I remember thinking I need to have a better solution than to be counting ballots at half time during the Super Bowl.
Also, the addition of the Doggie Chowder to allow man’s best friend a chance to participate was something we were especially proud to incorporate.
The idea of incorporating Chowderfest t-shirts into the mix proved to be popular. Some of the older ones are collector’s items these days if you can even find them
GL:The t-shirt enhancement started in year one. I believe we also gave away a sweatshirt pretty early on. I always reserved a certain number to give to charity, such as Saratoga ARC and to the sponsors, but yes, they all sold out.
Who were some of the artists that developed the early logos and set the standards for each year?
GL: Hud Armstrong was my artist for all of the original art through 2007. Our goal was to create stylized art using the same characters in different scenarios that demonstrated happiness during that time of year. A little known fact is that in all of the artwork we had a squirrel that harkened back to some early debate about the squirrels in Congress Park.
Has your schedule allowed you to visit a recent Chowderfest?
GL: I have not visited Chowderfest in person since 2007 but have enjoyed watching the videos online, which I think Ralph Pascucci of Myriad Productions is still shooting.
What are you doing now?
GL: In 2013, I became Executive Director of Tourism for New York State, working with members of the Tourism Division to lead the iconic I LOVE NY program, and develop and implement new strategies to support the growth of the tourism industry across the state.
Shout it Louda! We Love our Chowda!
Some fun “ChowderFacts”:
- Participating Chowderfest Restaurants:
First year: 16
- Chowder Servings:
First year: 5,000
2013: Over 115,000
- What’s New This Year?
The Chowderfest Hat Contest! The hat contest is on Henry Street from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. It’s a family fun event with Best Hat (inspired by your favorite chowder, of course) with prizes for adults and kids.
Who Is Defending Their Title?
Dog Chow Down Winner: Impressions of Saratoga
Best On Broadway and Best Newcomer: Druthers
Best Off Broadway: Seven Horse Pub
Best Non-Downtown: Longfellows
Best Dessert-Themed Chowder: Ben & Jerry's
Most Chowder Served: Parting Glass
People's Choice under 1,000 bowls Served: The Local Pub
People's Choice: Seven Horse Pub
2014 Winners will be announced at 6:30 on Saturday evening at the Saratoga Springs City Center
For more fun chowder facts and other information