BONITA SPRINGS — Live music blasted out from beneath the bandshell as the mouth-watering smells of 28 area restaurants wafted in the air during the 15th annual Taste of Bonita at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs on Sunday.
Festival chairman Tony Valego said he expected 8,000 people over the course of the day, and hoped to raise $50,000 for local charities.
“The proceeds go to a lot of local charities, including Bonita Assistance and the Red Cross,” Valego said on a sunny but cool day. “We also try to help out a lot of the smaller charities in the area, especially those that have been hit hardest during these tough economic times.”
Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson was on hand Sunday to promote his forthcoming restaurant venture, the Survey Café, which will open in mid-December on the corner of Wilson Street and Felts Street, directly behind Benson’s Grocery.
“I felt like the best way to get the downtown revitalization efforts started was to put my money where my mouth is,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s wife, Lori, will serve as president of the café. She said her appreciation for the Taste of Bonita event was three-pronged.
“First, it’s completely free and you can listen to live music without paying a dime if you want to,” she said. “Second, it’s put on by Rotary Club Noon, which I belong to, and it’s our best fundraiser. Third, it’s helping out downtown Bonita.”
Sandy London will be the chef of the Nelsons’ restaurant.
“This event couldn’t have had better timing for us,” London said. “Right before we open up, so we can get the word out to everybody about where we are and what we’re all about.”
London said the café’s butternut squash soup seemed to be the favorite among food aficionados on Sunday. Bonita Councilwoman Janet Martin agreed with that assessment.
“It’s the bomb!” Martin said before extolling the food festival’s virtues.
“We have a great turnout today, and every year it seems to grow,” Martin said. “It’s so nice to see our Bonitians turn out and show their support for their local restaurants.”
Mike Packer of Bonita Springs was among the many hungry Bonitians who turned out to show their support on Sunday.
“I just love this festival, I look forward to it every year,” Packer said. “You have family, friends, ice-cold beer … it’s just awesome to meet people in the community and to have a great time together.”
Steve Cummings is the manager of Royal Scoop in Bonita Springs. Cummings said his store’s sales were brisk Sunday despite the cool weather.
“We’re selling a lot of ice cream today,” Cummings said. “I was afraid the weather would keep sales down, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case.”
Mike Clevenger of Farmer Mike’s U-Pick in Bonita Springs was one of the 28 local vendors who were peddling their edible wares on Sunday.
“This is basically our ‘Welcome Back’ to all our patrons,” Clevenger said, noting that he traditionally opens for business the day after the food festival. “I love the chance to gain new customers and to meet people who love fresh vegetables but don’t know where to get them.”
Ruth Matheny of Bonita Springs said the pulled pork dish offered up by Tiki Hut and a slew of offerings from Carrabba’s were tops on her list at the event.
“I love the opportunity to try all the different restaurants,” Matheny said. “Even if you don’t get something at every stop, you can at least get their menus, which is nice.”
In the end, volunteer Lori Hancock summed the day up best.
“This festival is unbelievable,” Hancock said. “Basically, it’s all about everybody eating some great food and everybody having a great time.”
Contact John Osborne at email@example.com.