The inaugural Taste of Walnut didn’t need fairy lights to be magical, though it certainly added to the atmosphere. With more than 30 local-owned eateries, live music and 400 estimated attendees, this sold-out event on Saturday, March 25 gave small businesses much-needed exposure after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Located in Suzanne Park, Taste of Walnut was hosted by the Walnut Valley Educational Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting teachers and students within the district. All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards WVEF’s mission, including funding scholarships and teacher grants. Each vendor was paid $200 to encourage participation and remove potential barriers to entry, WVEF founder Robert Pacheco said.
“We thought this is a good way to develop some following for restaurants who don’t get enough people in them, and it’s also good for the citizens of Walnut to see that in this city, there are a lot of very good restaurants,” Pacheco said. “It’s a good event not only for the businesses, but [also] for the community to develop a spirit of giving and participation.”
Clearwater Bagels, a Walnut breakfast and lunch spot since 1995, was one such restaurant. It’s currently owned by Tracy Tong and Deko Machado, who took over in 2019.
“A lot of people like bagels, but they don’t know there’s a local, family-operated bagel shop in Walnut,” Tong said. “[I hope after WVEF], people know we actually exist.”
Taste of Walnut was envisioned by Justin Mazorlig and David Martinez, co-owners of Common Corners Brewing, Walnut’s first brewery with specialties in pilsners and ales.
“What makes it worth it for us is that we get to expose our neighbors to a crowd that we’ve been lucky enough to have,” Mazorlig said. “Walnut residents are older, but a lot of business owners are millennials. We want to show that [their] businesses can be supported by the community.”
As the inaugural event, Martinez said it was definitely a start in the right direction.
“It’s small but mighty,” Martinez said. “We’re taking best practices from other cities and making them ours, putting the Walnut taste on it. I think that’s real special.”
Before Taste of Walnut could be held, Mazorlig and Martinez had to advocate for changing a city ordinance that banned alcohol in city parks. The change was eventually approved, though city council member Eric Ching said “safety is still the number one priority,” limiting the amount of alcohol consumption allowed.
“I hope [Taste of Walnut] continues to get bigger and better. I hope we can continue to support nonprofit foundations and I hope people go and visit the actual business within Walnut,” City Councilmember Linda Freedman said. “I’m really happy that we can bring people out and show the variety of services we offer in Walnut.”