Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.
They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.
Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.
But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.
The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.
And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.
It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?
Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.
The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.
What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.
Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.
Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.
That’s right: Sunday. The first 2 Slices were held on Saturdays. But this one’s set for 1-4 p.m., this Sunday (September 14).
For a mere $10 (just $5 for kids 6-12), you can wander up and down Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue. More restaurants than you ever knew were down there will offer food. Other businesses will hand out coupons, gifts and anything else they dream up.
There are bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since Saugatuck’s previous tradition, Festival Italiano.
And on Sunday, September 14, a couple of thousand folks will go around and around in Saugatuck.
That’s the date for Slice of Saugatuck. All afternoon long, for just $10 ($5 for kids 6-12), people will wander up Riverside Avenue, along Railroad Place, and out Saugatuck Avenue. Every restaurant offers food; others businesses hand out coupons, gifts or anything else they want. There is bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since, well, Festival Italiano.
The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)
It’s the 3rd “Slice” in 4 years, and that’s what the “goes around, comes around” line is all about.
RTM representative Matthew Mandell created the festival back in 2011. After 2 wildly successful years, he handed it off to the Chamber of Commerce. But the director did not see the benefit — for either the Chamber or the merchants — and last year the Slice was iced.
Now the Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director: Mandell. One of his 1st moves was to serve up the Slice.
Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.
“It’s a quadruple win for the town,” Mandell explains.
“One, it brings people to Saugatuck, and promotes the merchants and the area.
“Two, it’s a fantastic community event. It’s great for people-watching, and it brings everyone together.”
“Three, it raises money for the homeless and hungry. The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry received $5,000 from the 2012 proceeds, and once again they’re our beneficiary.
“Four, we hire Homes with Hope residents to work at the festival.”
Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder’s riverside dock.
Mandell seems to have thought of everything. Including — 4 years ago — the perfect name.
“Saugatuck is shaped like a slice of pizza,” he says. (It is, if you consider its boundaries to be the train station at one end, and the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues the other.)
For many years, of course, Saugatuck was a thriving Italian neighborhood. There are still restaurants like Tutti’s and Julian’s, and quasi-Italian spots like
Tarry Lodge and Rizzuto’s. Mario’s and Tarantino’s are long-time classics. Dunville’s, Mansion, Viva and the Duck are not Italian, but they’ve outlasted even some of the oldtimers.
Newcomers like The Whelk, Rainbow Thai and Saugatuck Sweets — plus merchants like Downunder — have brought new life to the old area. So there will be plenty more free food than pizza available at the Slice.
Though I’m betting those slices will go real fast.
“Well, now you’ll get paid for doing what you’ve been doing all along.”
She’s right. Mandell — who began his new job last week — has served Westport in many capacities for years.
He’s a 5-term RTM member, chairing its Planning and Zoning Committee and serving on 5 others. He helped save the 22-acre Partrick Wetlands, along with 11 acres adjacent to Hiawatha Lane and 6 acres at the White Barn Theatre.
He championed the movement of the Kemper-Gunn House from Elm Street to the Baldwin parking lot; preservation of the building next to Terrain, and is working now to save the Geiger’s barn. He’s an Earthplace trustee, too.
Mandell also helped found Slice of Saugatuck. In fact, his work on that food-and-fun festival was a major reason the Chamber sought him out when they needed a new leader — for the 3rd time in 2 years.
After its 1st 2 wildly successful runs — organized entirely by volunteers — the Chamber offered to take over the event. But they dropped the ball last fall. So Chamber officials asked to meet with Mandell.
He thought they were talking about how to make the next Slice work. They were interviewing him for a job.
The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds, thanks in large part to Matthew Mandell’s hard work. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)
The Chamber wanted Mandell because of his great track record promoting businesses and jobs in Westport. It’s a town he’s known since 1972, lived in part-time since 1987, and moved to permanently in 2005.
Mandell first came here as a summer resident, with his mother. He attended Indian Walk Day Camp — and, through a former fellow camper, met a woman 14 years later who eventually became his wife.
The Mandells weekended here for over a decade, before buying a home on Ferry Lane East. That’s a short walk over the little-known railroad pedestrian bridge from Saugatuck, which Mandell quickly discovered has great history and neighborhood charm.
As Saugatuck boomed, Mandell became one of its biggest boosters. That brought him to the Chamber’s attention, and led eventually to his new post.
The director is blunt about the Chamber’s past few years. It’s been in Westport since 1931, but recently slid toward irrelevancy.
“We have to be more about community and interaction,” Mandell says. “Businesses will thrive because of that.
“We need to use the same model that worked for Slice of Saugatuck. If we bring people in, and they walk around and see what we’ve got, there will be a real sense of community.
“I don’t know what’s in half of the Post Road malls. But I know there are hidden gems there. We have to find them, and show them off.”
Mandell — who earned an MFA in film from New York University — will use video and social media much more than the Chamber did before.
“I’m not a businessman. I have no firm marketing background,” the new director admits. “But I do know how to advocate, and get people out.”
He was also the New York state champion debater in high school. “My wife says I can talk to anybody,” Mandell notes.
He embraces the challenges ahead. “People think the Chamber of Commerce is stodgy,” he says. “We have to give them people information so they think of us as more modern, as an important part of the community.”
His goal in his new role is to make Westport “even better than it is. The Chamber needs to be a cheerleader for the town — not just its businesses, but its residents too. If we achieve that, we’ll all thrive as a result.”
In just 2 years, the Slice of Saugatuck became a beloved town institution. Part street fair, part food fest, part replacement for Festival Italiano, it was a welcome addition to the September calendar.
This year though, there’s no Slice.
Founder and RTM member Matt Mandell wrote yesterday, in one of his regular emails to district residents and other community activists:
I am sad to report there will be no Slice of Saugatuck Festival this year.
As many of you know the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce approached me last year, asking if they could take over running it. Those of us involved thought this was a good match moving forward. The WWCC worked with me last year to learn the functions of what turned out to be a very successful followup to the 1st festival in 2011. Unfortunately this transition has not gone as anticipated.
Bridge Square rocked last September, at the “Slice of Saugatuck” festival. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)
Needless to say, this is very disappointing news. I know that many people and merchants were looking forward to the Westport community once again gathering on a late summer day in Saugatuck to celebrate all it has to offer.
Sadly, the biggest loser as a result of not having the festival is the Gillespie Center‘s food pantry. Last year’s Slice of Saugatuck revenue generated through ticket sales allowed for a donation of $5000 to help feed the homeless and hungry.
It is my hope, in the meantime, that our generous community will take a moment to buy a few extra cans of tuna or soup, and stop by the center to help out.
It is my and many merchants’ intention to ensure that the festival will once again be held next year, either in the spring or fall.
So hang in there. The Slice will be back.
Dunville’s was one of 24 restaurants offering free food at the Slice of Saugatuck The sliders were a big hit.
Spectacular weather. Toe-tapping music. Plenty of room to roam.
And tons of food from more restaurants than anyone realized could be packed into one small area. Cuisine ranged from American, Mexican, seafood and health food to Chinese, Indian and — of course; this is Saugatuck — Italian.
This afternoon’s Slice of Saugatuck was a perfect late-summer Saturday event. That resurgent community shone, from the river to the railroad, along the bustling streets and Bridge Square.
Proceeds from the $5 entry fee went to the Gillespie food pantry.
How’s that for a great slice of Westport life?
Music — not train horns or garbled announcements — filled the station air today.
Two youngsters demonstrated tae kwan do in Luciano Park.
Dunville’s was one of 24 restaurants offering free food. The sliders were a big hit.
Attending a street fair can be stressful. Saugatuck Studios offered free massages, near their Bridge Square location.
Free kayaks brought plenty of people to Down Under’s riverside dock.
No one knew quite what to expect. But — drawn by the promise of fun and food (and beer) (and wine) — thousands of Westporters showed up.
EMTs chowed down at the Saugatuck Rowing Club, at last year’s Slice of Saugatuck.
They wandered the funky, quickly changing neighborhood of Saugatuck. They enjoyed plenty of food (and beer) (and wine.) Plus plenty of music, kayaking, hairstyling, fire truck sitting, fly fishing, tae kwan do, people-watching, and friend-meeting.
So the expectations are high for this Saturday’s 2nd annual Slice of Saugatuck (September 15, 12-3 p.m.).
The ante’s been upped. There will be more food. More merchants. 8 bands, at 5 venues from Bridge Square to Dunville’s.
Over 3 dozen restaurants, shops and galleries will open their doors. Folks can wander in and out, tasting their way from restaurant to wine shop and back, checking out everything from kayak rentals and the firehouse to yoga and fly fishing.
The weather was perfect last year for kayaking at Down Under.
Bridge Square will take a star turn. With 3 more stores — and an additional 3 eateries — since last year, the old mini-shopping center has become a new neighborhood anchor.
Railroad Place will be closed — and a band will play there — adding to the block party atmosphere. (Train access is still available.)
There’s a $5 fee for everyone 13 and over — but profits benefit the Gillespie food pantry. Matthew Mandell — RTM member and Slice mastermind — explains, “There’s food for those who come to Saugatuck, and food for those who cannot afford any.”
Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.
With so much going on, most people won’t even notice the construction. That’s Phase II of the Saugatuck redevelopment.
It’s going well — and quickly. So just imagine how great next year’s 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck will be.
(For more information on this Saturday’s Slice of Saugatuck, click here. For a YouTube video, click below.)
If the battle for Westport’s heart was a prizefight, today Saugatuck knocked downtown out of the ring.
Or — to put it another, perhaps more maritime way — the original business center of Westport blew the long-time reigning champ out of the water.
The 1st annual Slice of Saugatuck Festival — the brainchild of area resident Matthew Mandell, with the collaboration of dozens of restaurants and stores — drew thousands of residents to that pizza slice-shaped, still semi-Italian, and fairly funky neighborhood.
EMTs eat well, thanks to the Saugatuck Rowing Club's Boathouse chef.
Free food (and beer, wine and margaritas) were a main attraction. But there was much more: music, kayaking, hairstyling, fire truck sitting, fly fishing, tae kwan do, people-watching…
In other words: fun.
Down Under offered free kayaking, on a gorgeous afternoon.
I’m a native Westporter. I’ve always loved Saugatuck. But until today — when I strolled its very stroll-able streets, and wandered its alleys and shortcuts — I didn’t really think about how much is packed into that small space.
The range of restaurants — from the Black Duck to the Boathouse; Mansion to Mario’s; Rizzuto’s to Tarry Lodge and Viva’s — is remarkable. There’s room for Saugatuck Grain and Grape, plus Saugatuck Wine & Spirits.
And — as the 2nd phase of redevelopment begins — there’s even room to grow.
Of course, new projects are planned for downtown too. From the Church Lane restaurant/retail complex to National Hall across the river — and, at some point, whatever replaces the Y — new restaurants and businesses could bring refreshing energy to that much-maligned area of town.
Riverside Avenue or Main Street? The real fight may just have begun.
Music was a key element of Slice of Saugatuck. This duo performed outside Rizzuto's Restaurant.
Outdoor tables were a prime attraction at Tutti's.
Near Mario's, this bench bore a sign: "Yankee's Fans. Bullpen bench from the original Yankee Stadium. $7,500. See Fred."
The line was long outside Tarry Lodge. Great appetizers served by roving waiters eased the wait.
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