Visalia Preps for Food Contest Finals
Visalia – So what do you do, when you are second in a nation-wide contest for the ideal small-town food in America, but the judges live within a few miles of the No. 1 town? “You work hard, and then you work harder,” stated Steve Griffiths, an organizer of next Monday’s Dine Out Visalia event. “You have faith, you rely upon volunteers, you make no presumptions, and you just keep working hard.”
With suddenness, businesses and residents have been asked to help in this upcoming citywide promotion.
This story began last spring, when Danika Heatherly, manager of the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, entered Visalia in the contest sponsored by USA TODAY and Rand McNally. It sought to name the ideal small towns in America for scenic beauty, patriotism, friendliness, and fun. And food.
“We qualified in every category,” Heatherly said. “But I chose food because we have an astonishing story to tell.”
In Internet voting, Visalia received the second-highest tally in “best for food.” Then, teams applying to serve as visitors to finalist towns were appointed June 23.
Randomly chosen as judges in the best-food category were Jim and Bonnie Parr, of St. Petersburg, Fla. They reside with a few minutes’ driving time of Gulfport, Fla., the top vote-getter in the food category.
“But the Parrs have a sense of fun and adventure, and of fairness,” Griffiths said, “and I know we can win if we do our best. Even if we remain in second place, we possess an enormous opportunity here.”
The opportunity, he said, is to create a city-wide celebration of local restaurants that will capitalize on the publicity of the contest.
“We have a natural connection to food in Visalia. We have an incredible array of locally owned restaurants. And we have farms and dairies and orchards and advisers that contribute to our story about being the ideal city for food in America.”
City, business, farming and agri-tourism officials, as a welcome committee, hastily are planning an itinerary for the Parrs.
In the meantime, residents are being encouraged to dine out Monday – as the Parrs tour at least 12 restaurants.
“We want them to see how vital and popular our restaurants are,” Heatherly said. “We’d like everyone to enjoy a meal on the town.”
In the contest, winning towns will be highlighted in the 2013 Rand McNally Road Atlas, as well as on USA TODAY’s travel Web site. Cities will be ranked on factors including team reports, opinions of travel experts, and community involvement.
Voting in the contest – which qualified Visalia as a finalist – has ended. But comments about Visalia can be posted, and comments are important, Heatherly said, because the criteria includes both quantity and quality of comments.
“We all know the cliché about being put on the map,” Griffiths said. “But these companies print the maps and the nation’s most popular newspaper with travelers. That is influential. Visalia deserves to be No. 1.”
“From farmer’s markets to our great chefs to our cool music scene, and even our devotion to preserve the Mearle’s venue, we have a lot to brag about,” Griffiths said. “We only need three minutes from 200 residents to lock this up. We can do this. And this will pay off for years.”
Winning towns will be announced July 22 at a travel conference in New Orleans.
“This contest is a tremendous opportunity to promote Visalia on a national level,” Griffiths said. “We want to highlight our community, highlight our chefs, and let the world know to stop here when touring California by car. But we also want to turn this visit into an opportunity to support our local economy in a very local way. Dine Out Visalia can do that.”
When the Parrs visit, their private itinerary is designed to highlight Visalia’s array of local restaurants that offer an unrivaled diversity of quality fare; links to the land in one of the nation’s most productive farming regions; desire to welcome national-park tourists, convention-goers and other visitors to enjoy Visalia on every road trip; and heartfelt concern to feed those residents who are less fortunate.
At press time, plans called for a welcoming ceremony, tours of local farms, dairies and packinghouses, a visit to the Visalia Rescue Mission, and dining at no fewer than 10 local restaurants throughout the city. On July 11, a progressive dinner will be staged with the Parrs, who will learn more about the city’s historic ties to food and agriculture as they are joined at dinner by Terry Ommen, a past president of the Tulare County Historical Society.
“Our story will begin in the field and end on the fork,” Griffiths said. “We will explain every step and worker in that process.”
The final itinerary will be determined by the Parrs’ actual arrival and departure times.
Because it is a road trip, some scheduling questions remain. But the Parrs are expected to arrive sometime July 10, enjoy a full day on July 11, and then leave after breakfast on July 12. The key focus is July 11. The committee is even encouraging families, service clubs, churches, or businesses to “adopt” a restaurant to help out.
Reservations are strongly recommended.
The above story is the property of The Valley Voice Newspaper and may not be reprinted without explicit permission in writing from the publisher.
Submited at Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 at 11:00 pm on Uncategorized by chuck
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