The Bite of Salem

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Update 8/2/09

I'm starting to think that the problem I'm having with the Bite of Salem is with my own vision of the event and not the event itself. What comes to my mind when I think about what I would want in this event is a restaurant oriented get together where food is the highlight of the day. Local restaurants would put out their best food in small portions for people to try in hopes of attracting these customers back to their restaurants later in the year. It would be a chance to speak directly with chef's and restaurant owners about what is happening in the industry around town. How about a stage where local chef's can prepare a meal while people watch and learn cooking techniques. This is what I would want in the event but it's not what the event is.

The Bite of Salem is a fundraiser for the Boy's and Girl's Club of Salem. It is a carnival like atmosphere with live music and food booths both from local kitchens and national chains. It's located at Riverfront Park overlooking the Willamette River with plenty of space to walk and people watch. My son and I got bites from Casey's Hot Dogs, $3 for the dog pictured here and a couple of tacos for $2 each from JR's Taqueria. For dessert, Coldstone cooled us down with a rootbeer float, $4 and a scoop of my favorite coffee lovers in a cup for $3.50.

We were there during the battle of the bands event on Saturday where a handful of local musical groups performed to a small crowd in the audience. You didn't need to sit in front of the stage to hear bands battle. At just about every square inch of the property the music was so loud you could hardly carry on a conversation with anyone else. This was kind of a spoiler for us. It made it uncomfortable to sit at tables and enjoy the day. I know, I'm getting old, and in my day I would have been the one cranking up the music myself. It reminded me of my college days, riding in the back of my friends VW Rabbit, listening to tapes of new rock bands on speakers that were so large, there wasn't any room for a trunk. It was as if turning it up louder would somehow make the music sound better. It didn't sound better and cranking the volume up to eleven at the Bite made the experience less enjoyable for us. We tried to get some relief from the musical melee by heading down to look a the Willamette Queen launch from it's dock but the audio carried even down there. In fact, when we got home in south Salem, a couple of miles away, I could still hear the thumping from the stack of speakers downtown.
Another attraction of this event is the carnival rides. If you like to be flipped around by dizzying portable carnival rides this is the place to be. A ferris wheel in the center of it all, lifts riders high above the park offering views of downtown Salem and the Willamette River. Hold onto your wallets though, the game operators, were pretty aggressive recruiting people into their activities. At just about every booth that we walked by, we were offered a guaranteed prize for every participant. Tempting us to throw a couple of darts at a wall of balloons.

It is a bit disappointing that there are national chains represented at the Bite of Salem, but it is what it is. There were lot's of customers ordering slices of pizza from Pizza Hut and we even treated ourselves to Coldstone Creamery. Salem is still a haven for fast food chains and it almost feels ok that they are represented here.

On the positive side, I rediscovered JR's and will be ordering tacos from there again soon. It feels good to support the Boy's and Girl's Club and the South Salem Rotary should be applauded for putting this all together.

Update 8/1/09
Photo highlights from The Bite of Salem 2009
Stay tuned for more info.
To see Liseanne's slide show click here!

Update 7/31/09 8:26am
A group of folks are heading to The Bite of Salem between noon and 3p on Saturday. Look for people wearing the spoon logo(seen below) introduce yourself and join the fun. Click on the logo and print it out then put it somewhere on your body so people know you're with Be sure to come back to and tell everyone how it went. For more information contact Liseanne through Twitter, or leave a comment below and someone will respond back.

Bite of Salem 2009
Here it is again, The Bite of Salem 2009. I just picked up this flyer from Coldstone. (I ordered my usual, coffee lovers, small.) Looks like it's too late already to get the fifteen dollar deal on the all day ride tickets. I know it's been said here before but it seems like a few too many chains in the Bite of Salem line up. Pizza Hut? Can you imagine someone walking paste the local options and picking up a personal pan pepperoni pizza. The only way I would end up in line at the Panda Express is if one of my children was throwing a fit in the middle of the place demanding chow mein. Fortunately Casey's is going to be there so I'll always be able to coax my children toward their fantastic hot dogs and fries. One new addition to the line up this year is French Press. Hopefully the temps will cool down a bit putting more people in the mood for their coffee. The donation to get in is $3 per person and the money goes toward the Boy's and Girls Club. It starts Friday July 31 at 11am and runs through Sunday.


Jen F said...

My family went to French Press while we were visiting Salem this weekend and it's great! It was too hot for coffee but they also offer crepes and smoothies. Everything was tasty and the crepes are huge. We shared the club and the strawberry tapioca (a special), and my daughter had a mango smoothie. My pooch was happy that the patio is VERY dog friendly. (They refilled her water bowl several times.)

Lise M said...

OMG! How did I miss this? The Bite will on the Salem Event Calendar in 5 minutes! lol.

Anonymous said...

I went last year and sadly, it was a total joke. Like Salem Man mentioned, only a handful of food booths and most of them were corporate like Pizza Hut/Panda Express. Truly disappointing. Much more focus on the children friendly carnival vibe, which is perfectly fine, just don't call it the Bite of Salem.

If you care about the local food community, save your money and go eat at a local restaurant.

Anonymous said...

You can always get an iced Americano from French Press -- delicious and chilly!

I won't be going to the Bite of Salem... I don't eat at Panda Express or Pizza Hut any time, if I can help it. And if I can go to French Press at their own building and skip the carnival vibe, I will do that. Maybe I'll change my mind about stuff like this someday when I have kids, but it just doesn't appeal to me at all.

Scott said...

I would really like to see a true showing of local food at an event like the Bite of Salem. I think with the proper restaurant turnout that it would be a very popular event. Keep the rides and all for the kiddos, but focus on the food! I went last year and was utterly unimpressed. I won't be going back until there are more enticing options.

Lise M said...

I may go, just to support the local places that are going to be there. The Sassy Onion menu sounded great! I havn't had their lunch food before, except for their catering my wedding and rehearsal dinner.

The Bite needs an EatSalem showing so let me know if anyone wants to get a small group together one day. Maybe a booth next year? ;) I'd volunteer!

Salem Man said...

Lisa that's a good idea. Maybe some kind of meetup at the Bite.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others. The bite of Salem is not what a "bite" festival is intended to be. I am unimpressed every time I go, and I don't usually go unless someone else talks me into it. I also think that what foods are offered should be smaller portions and less expensive, encouraging people to sample a few different things.

If I stand in line for 20 minutes to get a cold steak and cheese sandwich, you can bet I'm not getting back in another line to buy another full sized entree. Who does that, anyway?

The bite is just a carnival with some food booths, and usually not very good ones at that.

Salem Dinner Table said...

From what I understand the reason most local eateries don't participate is because the cost is prohibitive. As a vendor you pay $1,500.00 plus $100.00 for a temporary restaurant license and $45.00 for a permit from City of Salem. In consideration for an exhibit location, vendors will pay a flat guarantee of $350.00. Also vendors must provide proof of liability insurance and add event as additional insured.

According to the Bite web site @ it's not too late to get the fifteen dollar deal on the all day ride tickets. They state on the site that the last day to purchase is July 30th. Call the Parks Dept. @ 503-588-6336 to be sure or visit them at City Hall Rm. # 320 I believe.

It looks like a few other local places will be there in addition to French Press & Casey's;
Jack Rabbit Espresso
The Wooden Nickel
JR'S Taqueria
Mt. Angel Speciality Foods

It looks like 8 out of 13 booths are local eateries.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mama2Dylan- I was wondering if the costs to local vendors was an issue and indeed it appears to do be. That's a big chunk of change for a local business, not to mention the costs of getting a legal mobile cart/stand going as well.

So that leads to the question, what's the use of a festival, obstensibly to showcase regional food options, that very few Salem area restaurants can afford to be part of of? Kind of defeats the purpose, no?

Dsperin said...

Ugh-- The Bite is a huge joke, as are most "events" in Salem. Just a few weeks ago I wandered over to the Salem Art Fair and was just as disgusted. Half the artists weren't even from Oregon, not to mention SALEM.

It's such a sad, sad joke on this town. In order to participate in anything "local" you have to pay out the wazoo for a tent. Ridiculous! Who can afford to pay that price to promote their art and restaurants? This is why I avoid any event at the Waterfront, the Art Fair, and most of all-- the State Fair.

KandN said...

Just in case someone from the Rotary comes to the blog looking for input on The Bite, what would changes would you tell them you'd like to see?

Anonymous said...

Just in case someone from the Rotary comes to the blog looking for input on The Bite? Perhaps people should contact the Rotary directly?

Lisa Anne said...

So, um...wanna meet up on Saturday between noon and 3pm? We can even get a few entrees and share them to get a real taste of the local food (that is there). I think I'll post on Twitter too. So for more info here is my twitter page: You can direct message me on the day of if you need to.

For anyone who wants to join we should have a signal. We should print this (see link below) out and pin it or tape it to your person or backpack/purse. Be creative!! I think I'll make mine into a necklace. ;)

KandN said...

What I liked about The Bite: the local businesses that did show up, watching the children play in the fountain, being able to buy a Fat Tire or Bridgeport IPA instead of just Bud or Coors, the people watching.
What I didn't like: the too loud music, the lack of shade to sit in, children and non-beer drinkers in the beer garden (probably due to lack of shade elsewhere).

Alex said...

I have lived in Salem for 8 years and finally decided to visit the Bite for the first time. I was disappointed for the same reasons everyone else mentioned - it didn't appear to be mainly a food-focused event, and the food that was represented was primarily chains. Finally, the food I did try from the non-chain places was disappointing (a taco from TJ's Taqueria and a burger from the Wooden Nickel).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this event, except its name. Since the food is basically what you would expect at any other kind of fun-fair + music + beer outdoor venue, just don't call it the "The Bite" and I'll be fine!

Lisa Anne said...

I remember, back when my marching band did a fundraiser by picking up trash at the Bite, the this festival was larger and with more booths and food. It wasn't quite what I think the bite should be (much like SM's vision), but I think it was better. Of course the Bite was only 5 years old at the time. Since then, they have messed with the overall layout of the Bite, giving more room to fair rides and less for everything else. Now the Bite's purpose seems to be a place to ride rides for those who don't want to pay entry to the State Fair.

Jack Rabbit cafe had the right idea by handing out samples of their food and French Press had a cheap version of their yummy crepes. Good job guys!! That's the right idea. Now every where else should follow suit.

Anonymous said...

My family isn't going this year either, and namely for the reasons cited above. Focus on local/regional NW cuisine more! Work on making the cost less prohibitive for vendors.

Melina Tomson, MS said...

I'm guessing they gave more room for rides because of the cost of the booths. I am stunned at the costs mentioned above and it's no wonder more business' didn't participate.

My hubby and I came from the Taste of Chicago to Portland's to Salem's. We went our first year here and didn't go back until last year. I do think for kids it is a fun day (assuming you can handle the expensive day), but I do agree that it is kid oriented. I don't think it has enough to offer just adults.

I don't think there is a way to improve it because I don't think it is meant to be like the Taste of Chicago. Anyone want to take on organizing a Salem Food Festival?

Anonymous said...

For the amount of work it takes to set up and the cost, it just doesn't make sense for most local restaurants to come out.

I have done a few of these type events and it really is a lot of work.

They really should change the name. There is nothing "Bite" about the event. We had friends in town from Portland and they got excited to go - we had to explain to them it was just a small time carnival with standard fair food.

Now the Summer in the City is 10x better. Lots of good music, food and craft vendors, and access to all the regular restaurants downtown. We had a great time last year.

jeff said...

Jack Rabbit Espresso had good food - my wife & I and my mother got their three main items - Magarita Sandwich, Chicken Cesar Wrap, House Salad (which has an amazing number of ingredients) and enjoyed them all.

Otherwise... I don't think the Bite is worth the price. As my mom put it, what happened to the idea of getting cheap (<$2), small servings to try - so you can hit many different booths without busting the budget?

It doesn't surprise me that the real "Bite" is the expense of having a booth there.

Based on the amount of traffic I saw Sunday (and the din of the "music"), the Bite either needs a major re-think or it's seen it's last summer.