Q&A with Darlene McLendon
Occupation: President/CEO, Perry Chamber of Commerce
Q: What’s new at Perry’s Taste of Southern this year?
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A: There’s always new food, and new restaurants are added each year. But this year for the first time we’re adding “best of” awards. We’ll award a “best of” for desserts, “best of” for savories and also a best presentation for the best booth.
Q: Can you explain what Taste of Southern is?
A: It’s truly a red-carpet event put on by the Perry Chamber of Commerce with a host of great community sponsors. It’s a kickoff to the holiday season in Middle Georgia, with people attending in formal wear, evening wear, cocktail dress and festive holiday outfits. It’s a wonderful time to meet and great others, but even more to get a taste of foods from Middle Georgia’s most terrific restaurants, caterers, micro-breweries and similar venues.
Q: When is it? Where?
A: This year it’s on Nov. 30 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building. And we’re sold out. We sold out last week.
Q: So how many are coming?
A: We’ll be seating 800 and there’s an additional 100 or so there with booths from restaurants.
Q: Is it more a dinner, buffet, drop-in?
A: There’s seating, and some like to get samples, go sit and eat, go get more samples, go back and eat. Others walk around and keep sampling on the go. I guess it’s a tasting, but believe me, there’s plenty to taste and nobody leaves hungry. Vendors usually make sure their classic specialty is represented, or they try to come up with something new to impress us every year.
Q: How many restaurants-vendors are signed up?
A: We have a couple dozen, with one or two that still might make it.
Q: What’s the history of the event? And goals?
A: This is our sixth event. Originally it was (called) Taste of Perry, but in 2015 we renamed and rebranded it Taste of Southern and started meeting in the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building. The reason: It was growing from being sort of a Perry-only event, representing only very close eateries, to a regional event representing restaurants from further away and drawing people from all over Middle Georgia and further.
Our goals relate to business and tourism, of course.... but we realize Perry is blessed being in the center of the state with amazing facilities and saw the event becoming a more regional affair promoting the good of the whole area.
Q: For instance?
A: Well, obviously there are our home-town establishments, but there are places represented from every direction. You get a sample and you can’t help but make plans to head there for lunch or a meal. The special shrimp and grits from the Railroad Café’ in Fort Valley was a big hit last year and we heard they sold out again and again after Taste of Southern. Or with the Whistle Stop Café, people decide they want to jump off the interstate and go to Juliette on the way to Atlanta for a bite and a look around.
We bring people in here and that’s great, but we stretch out with the goal of offering an opportunity for places a couple of hours away to be represented, and we grow all our businesses. It truly is the rising tide to help one another for everyone’s good in the region.
Q: And it’s growing beyond what was first anticipated? It’s quite the gala.
A: The first years, there were a couple of hundred people and, yes, it’s exploded. The more establishments that come the more people we can accommodate. It’s really become an enjoyable affair with pictures taken on the red carpet and all the socializing.
Q: Other activities than eating?
A: We always have things planned. There’s definitely our silent and live auctions, which are a big part of the evening and pretty entertaining as people go after the wonderful items they want to make sure they win. There are drawings for prizes from sponsors, some pretty amazing ones. I’ll keep quiet on most of that.
Q: If people want to make sure they get in next year or represent their establishment, do they contact the chamber?
A: Our number is (478) 987-1234. The website is www.perrygachamber.com, and you can follow us on Facebook. Some people actually start contacting us in September for tickets. It really is the premier event of its kind and a great opportunity for the whole community.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.