The Taste of Chicago: A Forgotten Predecessor and Vendor's Stories

Daniel Hautzinger
The Taste of Chicago
The Taste of Chicago runs from Wednesday, July 10 through Sunday, July 14

It's that time of year in Chicago when summer festivals fill both the streets and every weekend, and one of the earliest and biggest starts today. The Taste of Chicago runs from Wednesday, July 10 through Sunday, July 14 this year in Grant Park. 

The Taste first took place on Michigan Avenue on the Fourth of July in 1980, drawing nearly 250,000 people. The official mythology is that the restaurateur Arnie Morton was inspired by an event in New York called Taste of the Big Apple and convinced Mayor Jane Byrne to hold a similar event in Chicago. But there was also a forgotten predecessor, an event that took place in Chicago's McCormick Place in 1977 called the Great Gourmet Food Festival, conceived and organized by an insurance broker and part-time security guard named George Spencer. Morton may have drawn inspiration from this successful event, too – it also took place around the Fourth of July, used tickets to buy food from vendors, and feature the phrase "A Taste of Chicago" on its event guide. You can learn more about the Great Gourmet Food Festival in this story from WTTW News

This year's Taste features some 80 vendors who represent some of Chicago's culinary diversity. There's the renowned Arun Sampanthavivat, whose elegant food at Arun's Thai Restaurant has been a mainstay of Chicago's dining scene for decades; watch him discuss his approach to food on Chat, Please!:


Marcelina Hernandez is a single immigrant mother who struggled for years to make ends meet, until she began selling her coveted tamales. Now, she has a thriving business called Yvolina's Tamales – watch her narrate her story here:


And, of course, the Taste includes iconic Chicago classics such as deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati's, Italian beef from Buona Beef, rainbow cones, BBQ rib tips, and hot dogs from Vienna Beef. The last celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, and WTTW News's Jay Shefsky got a behind-the-scenes look at how the sausage is made: