Friday, September 16, 2011
By James Lomuscio
Westporter Mathew Mandell, whose brainchild “Slice of Saugatuck Festival” kicks off Saturday at noon, says the genesis of the event was “Saugatuck revitalizing itself.”
“I got tired of people talking about how the downtown wasn’t working and needed to be revitalized,” he said about town government efforts to reinvigorate Main Street. “And I thought Saugatuck was revitalizing itself.”
So Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member who represents Saugatuck, decided this spring to showcase his own district’s strengths. After all, the new retail and apartment complex Saugatuck Center had just been completed, he said.
Tarry Lodge run by celebrity chef Mario Batali recently opened. On top of that, there were a number of time honored restaurants such as Mario’s Place, Mansion Clam House and Black Duck, eateries that withstood the test of time while forging a sense of community.
“The next step was going door to door at every establishment in Saugatuck in June and circling around until it gathered momentum,” he said.
To date, 35 retail outlets and restaurants have signed on to his “Saugatuck only” venture from noon to 3 p.m, he said, adding that it was designed as a walking and free food sampling tour of the town’s historically Italian-American section.
It was Saugatuck where Italian immigrants who had built the railroad a century ago decided to lay down their own tracks toward the American Dream.
“The term Slice of Wesport is multi-layered,” Mandell said. “First, Saugatuck is essentially a triangle.”
The triangle is formed where Riverside and Saugatuck avenues separate.
“And it’s represents a slice of pizza, which does two things,” he added. “It tells that this festival is about food, and it harkens back to the Italian heritage of the area.”
He admits that Saugatuck “has taken its lumps over the years,” first when I-95 cut through the area in the mid-1950s, razing many of the wood framed homes, and most recently when the Sons of Italy announced the annual Festival Italiano would be discontinued.
“I like to call it a hiatus because I’m sure the Italian Festival will be back,” he said. “But this was never intended to compete with the Italian Festival. It was designed as a parallel event that would run in the fall.”
Actually, the inaugural festival is running late summer. Mandell said festival goers, while strolling the sidewalks where five bands will be playing, will be able to sample, for example, free sausage and peppers at Mario’s, pizza at Tarry Lodge and sliders at Black Duck.
There will also be wine tastings at local package stores and free demonstrations at the kayak store DownUnder, to name a few.
“The point is to walk the neighborhood and see what it is,” Mandell said. “And they’ll be no parking problems because they can use the railroad parking lot, and it will be free. Everything about the festival is free. Have a nice time.”
Click here for a map of the festival
Posted 09/16/11 at 02:00 PM
Congratulations to you Matt for an impressive start to an exciting event which I am sure will be a great success!!
Wonderful idea - applause, applause for Saugatuck and Matt!