Taste of Hartsville moves in a new direction
The Taste of Hartsville is the signature event for the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce. Originating in business leaders’ backyards and growing into the large scale events of recent years, the Taste has always been a tradition that changed to suit the community. This year the chamber and event committee wanted to move the Taste in a new direction, while bringing back some of the elements that were missing in recent events. Events in the early 2000’s were elegant garden parties, while recent Tastes had turned into a straightforward food festival.
Though these recent events were well attended, the committee wanted a return to the elegance and splendor of an upscale dining event. The location would need to change. Hartsville Country Club graciously offered the chamber use of their grounds and staff for the event, and the committee jumped at the opportunity to have the best of all worlds - a refined outdoor setting, indoor restrooms, professional serving staff, and an iconic backdrop - the HCC clubhouse. Ticket sales and member participation surged as a result of these exciting changes that were first teased on social media, then announced to the public via a press release and newspaper article. The response was overwhelmingly positive, as guest after guest told the chamber how excited they were to experience the new Taste.
The chamber picked up 3 new members as a result of its members-only vendor policy. New members were so eager to join in the fun of the revamped event that they were happy to join. The second big change was the way awards were handled. In previous years, the lone vote was a people’s choice award for the best dish. The 2015 Taste was a three-award show, featuring a people’s choice, judge’s choice best taste, and judge’s choice best decorated table awards. The judge’s were selected from outside of the immediate Hartsville area, to ensure that they were as unbiased as possible. The table awards encouraged vendors to set up interesting, unique displays that embodied their business.
This simple change was nothing short of revolutionary in terms of beautifying the event at minimal cost to the chamber. Every corner of the grounds had ferns, flowers, or flourishes enhancing the ambiance of the affair. A change was made to the people’s choice award voting as well: rather than giving each guest one vote, votes were instead available for $1 each. All the money collected from voting was given to Carolina Kids, a local nonprofit that provides weekend food boxes to local children, as well as other programs to fight hunger and support Hartsville’s young students. In total, $567 was raised for this great cause, making the paid voting system a success! Local favorites ‘The Lizardmen’ were tapped to play their signature blend of pop and jazz music to set the tone.
Attendees may recall their performance at the chamber’s Annual Banquet. The chamber always seeks to draw on local talent whenever possible, and it is very fortunate to have such a polished, professional group in arm’s reach! The night of the event was beautiful; the weather cooperated (for the first time in the last 3 years), and the guests started to arrive just as the hot day was turning into a warm and pleasant evening. As vendors fired their grills and stirred their pots, the incredible smells wafted over the grounds, hinting at the delicious tastes to come. Committee members and chamber board members alike volunteered to shuttle guests from the parking lot to the grounds via golf carts provided by the country club. This nice touch was well appreciated by attendees all night, and was a big hit.
The vendors enjoyed meeting their customers, peers, and friends throughout the night, networking all the way while they served their signature dishes. The community turned out in great numbers. The chamber expected a good turnout because of the strong pre-event sales, and they were not disappointed. All told, it was one of the best Tastes ever, and the chamber, vendors, and guests were all happy by the end of the night. Many of the new elements in 2015 will be carried forward to next year, while the committee works to tweak little things to improve the event further. The chamber could not have asked for better on the night of its signature community event - good food, a good cause, and a great turnout.