DIXON – How about a cup of popcorn to go along with your pulled pork sandwich?
At Thursday’s Taste of Sauk Valley, about 500 people packed the second floor of the Brandywine to try samplings of local cuisine.
Such an event requires much planning and detail, and all of it was coordinated by local high school students in Whiteside Area Career Center’s Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class.
The bulk of responsibility of getting restaurants to participate, promoting and marketing, and providing entertainment rested on project managers Lauren Humphreys and Elise Moeller.
“There was definitely a lot of teamwork and dedication,” said Humphreys, a Sterling High School senior. “It definitely took a lot of time to get it going, and I’m so glad it all came together with a great group of businesses coming.”
This year’s class made it a goal to surpass numbers from last year’s inaugural Taste, the chief fundraiser for the CEO program.
“We had a goal to do more than we did last year,” said Moeller, a junior at Rock Falls High School. “We did that, and it was the help of everyone in our class.”
The class rounded up 15 restaurants, most of them from Dixon, Rock Falls and Sterling, but businesses as far as Mimmo’s Pizzeria in Forreston and Thicksten’s Popcorn in Prophetstown were willing to participate.
Leo and Joanie Stewart, who run Thicksten’s – a seasonal stand along Washington Street – didn’t quite know what to expect when CEO students Grant Minssen and Meghan Morales approached them.
The couple enjoyed spreading the word about their business to an audience outside of just Whiteside County.
“A couple of the students said, ‘Will you do this,’” Joanie said. “I didn’t quite know what it was [at first] but it sounded like a neat idea.”
Some customers chose to take a sampling of food simply based on what it looked like.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Tom Frisch of Tampico. “There’s a lot of good food.”
Frisch first tried dishes from JW’s Third Base and Triple P BBQ, both of Rock Falls, and Smoked on Third in Sterling.
“Now I got to go get dessert,” he said.
Owners and cooks from the businesses prepared samples at most tables, with help from some of the students. Jalen Bickett of Rock Falls and Andrew Wilson of Newman Central Catholic had sole operation of JW’s table.
The duo took it as a lesson to represent the business well.
“We have to be real polite and kind because we’re representing JW’s,” Bickett said. “If we weren’t nice or not thanking them, they won’t come to the business; but if we’re nice and polite to the customer, they can remember this and maybe go down to JW’s.”
“We have to treat it with respect, because we could either put a good name or bad name on it,” Wilson added. “We want to put a good name on it.”
Students also organized and booked live entertainment from local musicians, as well as the Newman choir. Others assisted with maintenance.
Moeller said that advice from last year’s CEO class was a big help in making this year’s Taste a success.
“It ran very smoothly,” Moeller said. “We all worked together and communicated to get this going. It was a great turnout, and I think the restaurants are really pleased with all of the people that came.”
“A lot of people were really excited to come and be a part of a celebration of the community,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys has aspirations to become an educator one day, and being in charge of the Taste was a real eye opener about what it takes to operate an event of such magnitude.
“Communication is the utmost most important thing you need to have working with a team,” Humphreys said. “Having to stand up in class and lead is definitely a great experience for me.”
Participating Taste of Sauk Valley Businesses:
Aurelio’s Bakery, Sterling
The Boulevard Pub and Grill, Sterling
Candlelight Inn, Sterling and Rock Falls
El Tapatio, Rock Falls
The Factory Pub 'n' Grub, Sterling
Folsom’s Bakery, Rock Falls
JW’s Third Base, Rock Falls
Kegger's Tap House, Sterling
Mama Cimino’s, Dixon
Mimmo’s Pizza, Forreston
Smoked on Third, Sterling
That Place on Palmyra, Dixon
Thicksten’s Popcorn, Prophetstown
Touch of Thai II and Ginko Tree Cafe, Dixon
Triple P BBQ, Rock Falls