Taste of Tacoma kicks off Friday at Point Defiance Park

The sun came out early Friday afternoon just in time for Michael Spencer to enjoy his annual reptile on a stick.

“I gotta have my alligator,” he said, smiling, surrounded by food vendors.

The longtime Tacoma resident said he knows of only one place in town to get the Cajun delicacy — The Taste of Tacoma.

The three-day food festival began Friday at Point Defiance Park and will continue this weekend with live music, cooking presentations and, yes, lots of food.

The festival will include six live entertainment stages and more than 260 food and merchandise vendors, said organizer Jody May.

Spencer, 56, has made attending the festival an annual tradition, but is still surprised by the variety of food vendors each year.

“There’s still something new and something different for me to try every year,” he said.

Whether watching live music or eating a fried festival favorite, he said there’s something for all ages. He said he plans on bringing his three kids to the park over the weekend.

“I have it down to an art,” Spencer said.

Although the event started off to a slow start Friday, May said the crowds tend to pick up Saturday and Sunday and bring in about 75 percent of the festival’s revenue and attendance. She said organizers estimate a total of 210,000 to 230,000 people will attend.

The free event also includes a children’s stage for families, a comedy club and a wine-tasting section.

Ahmad Sadek, owner of an elephant ear and seafood stand, said the event has a great family atmosphere and is in a prime location overlooking Puget Sound.

“The setting is beautiful, you’ve got the Point Defiance Park, the zoo,” said Sadek, who takes his booth to other Northwest festivals. “You’ve got the Sound, you cannot beat it.”

He said he has continued to be part of the event for 17 years because of the solid organization and strong community support.

“The organizers are the best, very good, they take care of their people,” Sadek said.

The original organizer was May’s father, Alan Silverman, who started the festival in 1985, three years after the first Bite of Seattle.

May said her father started both festivals with two ideas in mind: food and entertainment.

“As simplistic as that is, that was kind of the formula,” she said.

She said her dad knew those two ingredients, along with free admission, would bring people together.

Since then the festival company, Festival Inc., has gone on to produce and provide consultation for major festivals, including Oktoberfest Northwest in Puyallup and Seafair in Seattle.

May said she’s grateful to continue providing the community with fun summer events.

“It’s very very cool for me to be able to keep it all going,” she said.