The Demise of The Bite of Seattle
Clockwise from lower left: Cuoco’s smoked pork; O’Asian’s barbecue pork pastry; The Repp’s duck breast; Din Tai Fung’s veggie-pork wonton; PinkaBella’s root beer float cupcake; Shanik’s spiced eggplant, squash and tomatoes; Luc’s cod rillettes on profiterole
I was at the first Bite of Seattle in 1982. It was held at Greenlake and there were only a couple dozen restaurants participating but the festival was a wild success. It was so much fun to hang out at Greenlake, sample little tastes from the restaurants (most of which I couldn’t actually afford to eat at, at the time) and plan which ones I’d visit when I could afford to.
Fast forward several years and several iterations of the event. The Bite has been held at Seattle Center for many, many years. For a couple of years they charged an entry fee to help with cleanup costs but attendance plummeted. Some years “rules” that the restaurants needed to have a small $2 or $3 “bite” helped keep the festival affordable and graze-able. Most of the changes attempted to improve the overall experience.
I don’t remember exactly when Hinterberger’s Alley (John Hinterberger, beloved, former Seattle Times restaurant critic) was introduced. But from the beginning it offered several small bites from top restaurants for one price. And the proceeds have always gone to a charity. Kathy Casey hosted for a couple of years after Hinterberger gave it up and Tom Douglas has hosted for the last eight years. Tom just “passed the whisk” to next year’s host, Jason Wilson of Crush.
The Alley is my favorite place at The Bite and often I swoop in, run through it and then get out and away from the crowds. So it’s been some time since I actually strolled around the rest of the event, which I did this last Sunday.
What a disappointment.
You know what I found? There were very few “real” restaurant booths once you got outside of The Alley. Nearly everyone selling food at the bite was a street fair vendor. I saw a few food trucks – which I will count as “real” restaurants, a couple of ice-cream shops, and a few ethnic eateries. That was it. I’m guessing less than 20% of the vendors have brick and mortar establishments. Heck, probably barely 10% can be reached when there’s no festival in town. How incredibly sad.
I don’t know when this change took place. I’m sure it was little by little and I just didn’t notice as I made my way to and from The Alley each year. And, I guess, if you had never seen how great this event used to be it could still be fun. But I found it pretty depressing.