The GTA boasts one of the largest Greek communities in the world, outside of Greece, so it’s no surprise that Toronto puts on a top-notch Hellenic celebration and local restaurants pull out all the stops to ensure visitors remember their food and come back for more.
Last year, 1.3 million people converged on the Danforth to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells at the massive festival. Mezes restaurant, just west of Logan Avenue, has been in business for 18 years and has watched the Taste of the Danforth grow from its humble beginnings in the mid-1990s.
“To see people in Toronto coming together in an event like this — it’s refreshing to see. Everybody comes together as one,” Mezes manager Tony Pethakas told CityNews.
The 19th edition of the event runs Aug. 10-12 (Friday from 6 p.m. – midnight, Saturday from noon – midnight and Sunday from noon – 8 p.m.). Danforth will open to pedestrians only between Broadview and Jones.
The massive crowds mean Mezes has to have all hands on deck.
“We call in the family,” Pethakas said of Mezes’ Taste preparations.
“We prepare everything fresh. We literally start Thursday morning and we keep preparing fresh through the weekend. Our suppliers are on call the whole weekend for fresh meat whenever we need it.”
Pethakas said the Taste not only provides an end-of-summer shot in the arm for business, but it also provides a powerful marketing tool for local restaurants.
A 2010 study commissioned by the Danforth BIA showed the Taste of the Danforth generates $32 million in economic activity for the neighbourhood.
In terms of entertainment, perennial fans can expect the staples, including traditional Greek music, cooking demonstrations, a kids’ area just east of Pape complete with a midway and rides, two or three beverage gardens for the grownups and some appearances by players from some of Toronto’s pro sports teams.
Click here for a full schedule.
The massive crowds can make it hard to experience the whole party for people with mobility issues or families with small kids, strollers and other baby gear, but the Taste’s director of operations Faiza Ansari said there are a few things families can do to ease potential frustration.
First and most importantly: come early. Danforth is closed as of 11 a.m. on the Friday and remains off-limits to car traffic until late Sunday night.
“If they come right when it starts, we’re up and rockin’ and ready to go. It’s not like you come at noon and there’s no food ready,” she told CityNews.
It also makes it much easier to snag a parking spot, unless you’re coming on public transit.
“We’re trying to minimize people’s frustration levels. So if you’re coming and you need to park close enough that you [can walk with] your grandma and walk with a baby stroller, come right at 12.
Everything is up, the entertainment is starting and the kids’ area is running. So it’s not like your waiting for things to happen.”
And here’s another option for families that want to walk through the festival but don’t want to wait in lines: “Some of our restaurants are open for breakfast. You can come before. You can’t get food from the outdoor vendors before 12 p.m. but if you want to come and have coffee … you could actually take advantage of their facilities before the crowds start,” Ansari said.
The festival director also had a message for pet owners.
“Do your furry friend a favour and leave them at home,” she said, describing the toll it can take on “all those little paws on the hot asphalt and getting stepped on.”