GLENS FALLS — Take a Bite is the latest tradition put on hold this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but some involved with the organization that plans the event don’t understand why.
The annual food festival was deemed a nonessential gathering last week by county officials who said it would violate the state’s ban on large gatherings, which aren’t supposed to exceed 50 people.
“It doesn’t necessarily make sense to me,” said Eric Unkauf, owner of The Shirt Factory on Lawrence Street and a board member of the Glens Falls Collaborative, which organizes the festival each year.
Unkauf hosts the Food Truck Corral at The Shirt Factory, a similar event that typically attracts thousands of people to the restored manufacturing building on the corner of Lawrence and Cooper streets every Thursday during the summer. The event has taken place each week since June, but at a reduced capacity because of the pandemic.
Still, the event is a popular draw, attracting scores of people each time it is held.
Unkauf said he doesn’t understand why his operation is allowed but Take a Bite isn’t, since both seek to promote the restaurant industry, an essential service under state guidelines.
This year's Take a Bite festival will not be happening after the event was deemed non-essential by county officials.
“We’ve been doing this, and a lot of other fairgrounds in the area have been doing this, for a while,” he said.
Food truck events have been taking place in Albany and at the Washington County Fairgrounds, which gave Take a Bite organizers a glimmer of hope the festival could move ahead, despite the pandemic.
Organizers approached the city’s Common Council last month, seeking permission for a number of street closures, so picnic tables could be spaced out along the streets and people could participate while abiding by social distancing guidelines.
But city officials said the county would first need to sign off on a plan before any street closures would be granted. County officials said the event would violate state guidelines and deemed it nonessential.
“The opinion was rendered that it was a nonessential event that would attract more than 50 people,” Don Lehman, a spokesman for the county, said in an email.
Robin Barkenhagen, president of the Collaborative, said he and other board members involved in planning Take a Bite understand the county’s decision. Unkauf, he said, is not on the committee for the yearly festival.
“Without the city’s backing, without the county’s backing, we absolutely understand. We knew ahead of time it was an uphill battle to even try to pull it off,” Barkenhagen said.
Still, Unkauf said the decision came as a surprise.
The food truck corral, held Thursday nights at The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls, is returning late in May but as a pre-order, pre-pay and drive-thru event.
He reached out to the county earlier this year, seeking guidance on how to host the food truck festival, and he encouraged the Collaborative to do the same.
“To my mind, they were going to have all the proper social distancing and whatnot in place to make this happen,” Unkauf said. “They were going to change the event in a major way.”
Mayor Dan Hall said the two events were seeking different things.
The Food Truck Corral, he said, sought permission for a take-out festival, while Take a Bite was seeking permission to host hundreds of diners at tables set up throughout downtown.
“The takeout side of it is the way the Food Truck Corral is operating,” Hall said.
Any large gatherings at The Shirt Factory would be a violation of the event’s permit, he said.
As for Take a Bite, Hall said the plans, while good, did not do enough to address the state’s ban on large gatherings.
“There’s no way that there’s not going to be more than 50 people in line,” he said.
The Collaborative has also been forced to cancel Pet Fest, which was scheduled for Sept. 20, and is currently reassessing the feasibility of other popular events like Grandma’s Table and Boo 2 You, which is scheduled to take place this year on Halloween.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star, covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.