Winter Haven Celebrates International Food and Drink Street Festival
by James Coulter
Caribbean jerk wings. Gourmet corn dogs with mustard sauce. Smash burgers and onions. Bangers and mash. These were but a few of the novel delicacies that could be tasted and sampled at the International Food and Drink Street Festival in Downtown Winter Haven on Thursday.
All along Central Avenue, more than 22 vendors set up to offer a diverse selection of international food favorites from countries like America, Mexico, Italy, Greece, the Caribbean, and many more. Attendees could sample great food and wash it all down with some craft beer served in neighboring beer tents.
Many of the vendors were set up by local businesses and eateries, especially those in the downtown area. For example, Union Taproom and Pizza served Caribbean jerk chicken wings with celery and ranch dressing. The owners were more than impressed by the turnout that evening.
“It was awesome,” said Alanna Loveless. “There are a lot more people who attended than we expected. I am enjoying seeing all the different people with food and getting to experience the crowd and everything.”
Among the other participating businesses that evening included Tanner’s Lakeside, Fire Restaurant, and Sugar and Splice. The bakery served apple pie, brownies, and banana pudding. The latter proved so popular that it sold out the first ten to twenty minutes, explained an employee.
The street festival was the kick-off event for the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation’s World Water Ski Show Tournament that weekend, celebrating 100 years of water skiing. More than 1,500 to 2,000 attendees turned out for the event, estimated Bailey McDaniel, Assistant Director with Main Street Winter Haven.
To help welcome visitors from all over the world, Main Street Winter Haven collaborated with Visit Central Florida and The Central Florida Sports Marketing to host the opening festival. Overall, it proved most successful for both residents and international visitors.
“We decided to go big or go home,” McDaniel said. “We owe the success to the partnership with the City of Winter Haven. The Polk County Sports Marketing has been huge in helping us make connections for the event. and inviting all the athletes and participants from the tournament to be social. It gives them a reason to be celebrated with countries and foods to try. This has already exceeded expectations.”
Mayor Pro Tiem Nathan Birdsong attended that evening with other city officials. He was proud of how the event helped showcase their small town to a large international audience.
“It is great,” he said. “It is something I don’t think we ever had here before. So, it is just a great day in the city of winter haven and the weather cooperated so we wait. It exposed our community to all these people. It is important. It lets the people come to know what we are as a city.”