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Taste the Countryside looks to boost local hospitality industry

It was not long ago when Toronto launched their Summerlicious and Winterlicious events as a way to celebrate all things food, while promoting the locally unique businesses within its hospitality industry. As time went on, other places like Elora began to adopt similar events, putting their own spin on the culinary extravaganza.

Starting September 25, a partnership between Woolwich, Wellesley and Explore Waterloo Region is set to bring Taste of the Countryside food-lovers’ event to this area.

While there are many similarities between the various events, this one differs by allowing all types of food establishments to take part and offer a unique menu to patrons instead of simply allowing high-end restaurants to participate.

Jenna Morris, economic development and tourism officer with the Township of Woolwich, says the event was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to support the hospitality industry by giving residents a fun reason to come out and try something new.

“We started thinking of ideas for how we can stimulate a bit of activity to remind people which food establishments are in the area and where they can get food. We find a lot of people who live in our municipality often work outside of the municipality and they tend to identify their local restaurants to a place in the city. So, the hope is to highlight some of our local food establishments and make it known so that people think instead of going to East Side Mario’s in the city, they’re thinking ‘oh I’m going to go to Sip ‘N Bite or I’m going to go to Jacob’s Grill or Stone Crock or somewhere local,’” said Morris. We just want to remind people of what amazing food they have in their own backyard so that when they think about where they’re going to go out this week, they’re choosing somewhere in the region countryside.”

Currently, there are 12 participating locations that will be serving up various prix fixe menus. Depending on the location, customers will be offered $15 or $35 menus from which they can choose their meal. Offerings vary from take home three-course meals to classic favourites served by local eateries and even coffee and dessert offerings.

Restaurants included in Taste of the Countryside are Block Three Brewing, Chef Duff and RiverSong, EcoCafe Village Roasters, Grill on the Green, Heidelberg Restaurant, Jacob’s Grill, Kitchen Kuttings, Lip Smackin’ Lou’s, Never Enough Thyme, Rural Roots Brewing Company, Sip ‘N Bite, and the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market.

Morris says the mix of both restaurants and other types of food establishments like diners, breweries and cafes, gives people a chance to enjoy varying types of food and drinks.

At Rural Roots, manager Krysta Cronin said that the event allows people to not only come out and enjoy the food they have to offer, but also bring in new regular customers.

“Hopefully we get people that don’t really know we exist [and at the same time] get some exposure through social media. [We would also like] to grow in our own community here, you don’t need to go far [because] we have so many good things in our own local community,” said Cronin.

Nick Benninger, chef and co-founder of the Fat Sparrow Group, says his menu is all about staying local and showcasing the area, leaving as many dollars in the community as possible. He wanted to give people who come out for this event a date-night experience with foods that may not normally try; the menu is more geared towards what you would see as a feature rather than the usual suspects of burgers and mac and cheese.

For those who choose to take part in the event, Morris says there is an added bonus beyond enjoying a delicious meal. Prizes will be awarded once the event is over and those who dine at one of the restaurants can enter a ballot each time they eat one of the prix fixe options and then posts a photo to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #tastethecountryside.

Taste of the Countryside runs from September 25 to October 4. You can find more information online.

Staff at Grill on the Green in Elmira prepare a dish that they will be serving as part of the upcoming Taste of the Countryside campaign. [Damon Maclean]

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