JACKSON TWP. — Belden Village Shopping CenterSaturday’s Taste for the Space event drew more than 850 guests to watch nine competitors compete for a total prize worth $140,000, including a $50,000 investment and six months free rent in a space of mall restoration.
The nine competitors were Large A#$ SaladsBlue Smoke, The Cheesecake Bar LLC, Daisy Pops, iRiE Jamaican Kitchen, Merrybrook Baking Co., BBQ poagies, SOL Pie Pizza and Taco Buddy. Event sponsors included US Foods and Dave & Buster’s.
Each contestant shared a signature tasting dish, or a few options to choose from, with the crowd. Community members then voted by text message for their favorite restaurant, and the judging panel, made up of eight influential people in the local food community alongside two tenant managers from Belden Village Mall and representatives from the mall’s owning company , noted the competing restaurants.
“We want to do more than just fill a food court space, we want to build a food community and support local small businesses,” Belden Village Mall marketing and business development manager Alisa Carl said in a press release before the event. “Our center serves the community, so of course we want to involve the public in shaping the future of their local catering.”
Proceeds from event tickets were donated to Stark County Hunger Task Force to help provide free groceries to those in need. The event also had a beer and wine garden featuring Hoodletown Brewing Co. and Gervasi Vineyard with sales benefiting the Run to Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Entertainment was provided by local band Eric Brooke. There was also a children’s section, sponsored by Dave & Buster’s, which included a T. rex demonstration, face painting, games and more.
How the Taste for the Space event came together
Carl said Pacific Retail Capital Partners, the company that owns Belden Village Mall, hosted the event in centers across the United States. Carl modeled the Belden event on that of a Chicago mall.
The company looked at the demographics and number of local restaurants in the area and thought Taste for the Space would be a good way to fill mall space with help from the community, Carl said.
To participate, restaurants had to complete a detailed application and include a video of themselves. Mall staff wanted to get a real feel for each restaurant’s business plan and chefs to see if they would be a good fit for a space in the mall.
Some of the finalists don’t have physical businesses yet, so they were thrilled to have the opportunity to win space.
“There are two chiefs who don’t have a business at the moment. One is called Blue Smoke and the other is Taco Buddy,” Carl said. “The owner of Blue Smoke… had wanted to open his own business for some time. …
“To be able to look at some of these leaders who want a business, it’s amazing that we can look at them and say, ‘We want to help you start your business’ and give them an opportunity that they might not be. able to do without a competition like this,” she said.
Learn about the food at Belden Village Mall’s Taste for the Space event
Guests wandered around sampling dishes from each participating restaurant. Dishes ranged from pulled pork sliders from Blue Smoke, to margarita pizza slices from SOL Pie Pizza, to a variety of salads from Big A#$ Salads, to several types of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Bar and four types of Daisy Pops cake pops.
Also on the menu were pretzels and soft donuts from Merrybrook Baking, fish tacos from Taco Buddy, pulled pork macaroni and cheese from Poagies BBQ and an island bowl with rice, beef, mango and salsa from iRiE Jamaican Kitchen.
Judging by the buzz of the crowd, the headliners seemed to be iRiE Jamaican Kitchen and Blue Smoke.
Blue Smoke’s dish was called the Armadillo. “It’s a jalapeño wrapped in sausage wrapped in bacon with cream cheese inside,” said local chef Pete Carbone, who is also a trustee of the Tri-County Restaurant Association. “It is very good!”
“I’ve only heard positive responses about the event,” Carl said. “I keep hearing good things about iRiE Jamaican Kitchen. It seems like a top pick.
Others couldn’t decide what they preferred.
“I’m so impressed with everyone,” said Amanda DeVries, who works for Belden Village Mall’s corporate leasing company. “The pretzels and donuts (from Merrybrook Baking Co.) are really good. I really liked iRiE.
“I also like the salad idea (from Big A#$ Salads). I’m from Chicago, so we really care about being healthy. I don’t know if it would go as well here,” DeVries said.
“Everyone loves gluten-free,” Carbone said. He noted that he liked the concept of SOL Pie Pizza. “I think it would be a good fit.
“I’m really happy to see that an independent restaurant is going to open,” Carbone added. “I’m glad all the independents are participating.”
What vendors and Belden Village Mall felt about the event
As the food queues began to slow down, mall vendors and staff could finally enjoy the event and enjoy it.
“I’m 100% blown away,” Blue Smoke owner Jamie Moore said of the event. “I’m super grateful to have been chosen to participate. This is an incredible opportunity for a new chef without a physical store.
SOL Pie Pizza owner Alan Frank had similar sentiments.
“I think it went really well. It’s a great opportunity,” Frank said. “We’ve been wanting to expand for 14 years. personalized.
He also mentioned how well organized the event was, noting that he had attended many food events over the years. Carl said she’s heard similar comments from many vendors.
She said it was amazing to see so many people attending. “The children are having fun. Families have fun,” Carl said.
Julie Sanderson, a representative for Franklin Park Mall in Toledo, said it was the first such event she had attended and loved seeing the enthusiasm from the community and vendors. She mentioned how great it is for community input regarding the restaurant she wants to see in her mall.
How the winner will be chosen
The winner will be announced in a few weeks. Once the community votes have been counted, with the scores and comments from the judges taken into account, the mall will meet with its leasing team to review the business plans of the top restaurants to determine which will be the best fit for one. of the three locations available in the mall. — the space where The Rail used to be, a food court or kiosk in the center of the mall.
“It’s about figuring out their business plan, what space would work best for them, and seeing if they can fit in,” Carl said. “We want to make sure they can be sustainable in the mall for the long term.
“We want someone good, new, authentic – just a new idea – inside the mall. … I think the community vote will have a huge impact on who we watch the most,” Carl said.
Contact Kelsey at [email protected]ep.com