Tastier Than Ever

Spidey knows that Taste of Honolulu is more than fun for the whole family — it supports the work of Easter Seals

Katie Young
Friday - June 24, 2005
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It’s the Mother of all tastes — The Taste of Honolulu, a veritable food lovers’ paradise with gourmet samplings, local grinds and even a few unusual delicacies.

There’s something for everyone at the 14th annual Easter Seals benefit — whether your passion is food, wine or just sitting on the lawn listening to some of Hawaii’s most talented musicians.

Taste 2005 will commence on the Civic Center grounds adjacent to Honolulu Hale for three days: Friday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“When the Taste started 14 years ago, it was just a one-day event,” says Easter Seals vice president of development, Billie Gabriel. “It has grown tremendously over the years. To date, we’ve raised about $2.1 million net proceeds to support Easter Seals’ 22 statewide programs.”

The Taste of Honolulu, which was originally inspired by a similar event, the Taste of Chicago, continues to be Easter Seals’ flagship fundraiser. “When it started, we were looking for a signature fundraiser that we could really put our name to — something that really appealed to the masses,” says Gabriel.

Every year, Easter Seals hopes to raise $250,000 net proceeds from the event to support its programs, which don’t receive state or federal funding. By drawing a crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 annually, the organization’s president and CEO, John Howell, says they’ve been able to reach their goal for the past decade.

Part of the continued success of the Taste of Honolulu, however, lies in the fact that the organizers at Easter Seals are continually trying new things to upgrade the event.

“We have a nice recipe, so to speak, for the event,” says Howell. “The core of Taste remains the same, something people can count on, but we’re always trying to change small pieces just to keep it interesting and new.”

John Howell, CEO of Easter Seals with staffers
Jessica Retan, Lin Joseph, Spidey and Easter
Seals youth participant, Alissa

Every year, Easter Seals brings back a little more than half of the same restaurants that have been at Taste since the beginning. The remaining restaurant spots are filled in with new restaurants that are invited to participate.

Twenty-six eateries are setting up shop — or tents — on the Civic Center lawn this year, including old favorites such as Ciao Mein, The Colony and Prince Court restaurants, and new additions such as E&O Trading Company, Mediterranean Garden Deli and Longhi’s.

Tastes range from $1.50 to $4.50 for a combination taste plate.

Back by popular demand, says Gabriel, is Kevin Tate’s (former owner of Kevin’s Two Boots in Kailua) spicy smothered alligator. Yes, it’s real alligator, shipped in fresh from the Louisiana bayou, which Tate cooks up in a stew.

And for those who don’t like to fight the crowd, there’s the Chefs du Jour. Now in its third year, this is a sitdown affair for a limited 400 guests on Friday and Saturday night. For $100, sample dishes from seven chefs, sip wine, and enjoy reserved seating and valet parking.

Easter Seals also introduces the first annual Taste World Wine Tour, sponsored by Times and Fujioka’s, which will feature 11 various wine stations and six or 10 tastings available for $18 and $25 respectively.

The Taste of Honolulu will also offer activities geared toward the keiki with various kiddie rides, face painting and, new this year, the Marvel Comics’ Spiderman in from New York both Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

The grounds will also be flooded with other costumed characters, including members of the Pacific Legion dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader, Storm Troopers and the Royal Guards, Saturday from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Other local mascots will also be on hand including Aloha Bear, the M&M Man, the Kool-Aid character and Lani Moo.

“This is really the best deal in town,” says Gabriel. “Food is so universal. People love to eat and listen to music. What better way for them to do that than for a charity? It’s under the stars and it’s a wonderful social event.”

Gabriel says she knows of families who plan their reunions at Taste of Honolulu, those who come for the entertainment and those who come just for the desserts.

While the public focus is on the food, wine and entertainment, for Easter Seals, the focus is on the money that’s raised to help children and adults with disabilities.

To help them increase awareness for Easter Seals and all their programs, Taste of Honolulu also does a live broadcast from the event grounds. This year will be the first time the broadcast is on two nights: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday on K5 and 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday on KHNL.

“We show the viewers not only what’s going on at Taste of Honolulu, but we also interview the families that benefit from this event,” says Gabriel. “These families tell viewers how they have been impacted by Easter Seals’ programs.”

Adds Howell, “We want the public to have a greater understanding of disability issues and the fact that individuals with special needs still make a contribution to our society.”

Easter Seals as an organization has grown significantly since Taste of Honolulu started 14 years ago. They used to have 40 employees and an operating budget of $2 million. Today, they have over 300 employees and a budget of $12 million. There are also 2,000 volunteers who help with the Taste of Honolulu event alone.

“We want people to know that 100 percent of the money raised from the Taste of Honolulu stays here in Hawaii,” says Gabriel. “And 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to our client programs. You can eat as much as you want and feel good about knowing that every bite you take is helping Easter Seals.”

Tips For Optimizing Your Taste Of Honolulu Experience

°Map out your choice morsels ahead of time for optimum efficiency. (Check the four-page pull-out section in your June 22 MidWeek.)

°While waiting in lines at the event, ask others about the best dishes they’ve had so far.

°Go with a gang of friends and have everyone stand in a different line, then congregate at a predesignated spot and share!

°Wear comfortable shoes and a roomy shirt or mu‘umu‘u for maximum eating.

°Remember that everything you eat and drink is helping Easter Seals make a difference in the lives of disabled keiki and adults all over the state of Hawaii.

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