A cooling breeze under a blazing sun blew across Commencement Bay as people filtered through the entrance to Point Defiance Park for the first day of the annual Taste of Tacoma, celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend.
Pam Rathbun came with her husband Dudley. The Gig Harbor couple were attending the festival for their seventh year.
“We usually come for the crafts and to hear the music, but I think I’ll have a corn dog. They sure look good,” Pam Rathbun said.
She was referring to Hand Dipped Corn Dogs of the World booth, owned and operated by Jim Antram of Edgewood. His parent company, Irish Man Enterprises, also operates the Ice Cream Float Gazebo at the center of the food area.
Antram, an 11-time Taste of Tacoma vendor, took the old idea of a corn dog and has made it his own for the last four years. The booth, with its slogan “changing the world one corn dog at a time,” was drawing a crowd early Friday.
“We have seven different varieties representing seven different countries,” he said.
The heat was rising and the air was filled with the smell of foods from 27 vendors preparing for a weekend filled with hungry patrons. The festival also offers carnival rides and more than 100 acts on five stages, ranging from live music and dance to a reptile show and chef demonstrations.
Anthony Williams was enthusiastic about his mobile restaurant, Caveman Eats. He’s a first-time Taste vendor, but he’s been working the festival circuit with his “paleo”-based menu since 2011.
“Business is crazy. From week to week our menu varies, but we do have a few popular staples,” the Tacoma man said. “Our Bacon Seafood Gumbo is amazing, and folks love the Bronto Burger.”
Caveman Eats will soon operate on a year-round basis at a food truck, he said. The plan is to set up the truck in three locations for one day a week at each spot.
“We’ll be on the east side, in downtown and then one day a week we’ll be up in Seattle,” he said. “We’ll do festivals every weekend from April until November.”
In the center of the Taste of Tacoma food area is Antram’s Ice Cream Float Gazebo, a small hexagon with a cedar roof and a prominent ice cream cone sticking out the top like an angel on a Christmas tree.
“I took the root beer float idea and expanded on it,” Antram said. “We offer nine different float flavors, all made with natural fruits.”
At the north end of the food area, Arnold's Happy Days has a food truck offering a festival feature called Just a Bite. Each item costs $3.75 or less, giving customers a chance to try several dishes. Other vendors around the park offered a similar deal.
Next door, Gibson’s Yogurt Shoppe truck offers a variety of frozen yogurt flavors and more than 40 toppings. The truck is available throughout the year for weddings, graduations and other events, owner Judy Jones said.
Gibson’s also has a year-round storefront in Tacoma at 5916 N. 26th. St.
John Conrardy lives in the neighborhood near the shop. He enjoys the yogurt there, just as he did Friday at the festival.
“I like most of the flavors,” he said. “My favorite is the vanilla flavor. I like to put fruit on it and then coat it with crushed Butterfinger.”
The Rathbuns stood with their daughter, Tami Von Lindern of Tacoma, in front of the Frozen Chocolate Dipped Cheesecake booth and considered their options.
“We should try the cheesecake,” Von Lindern said. “We should get one and split it.”
Her parents nodded in agreement.
Ernie Fent, with a silver pompadour and a gleaming smile, owns and and operates the cheesecake booth. He works 12 weekends in a row, traveling all the way from Galveston, Texas, to work the Washington, Idaho and Montana festival circuit.
Along with frozen chocolate-dipped cheesecake, he sells frozen root beer floats, giant dipped ice cream bars, bananas and strawberries.
“Everything on a stick,” Fent said.