Adam Posselt works behind the counter at Waconia’s Frost & Steam, an ice cream and coffee shop. He’s never attended Taste of Minnesota and isn’t sure what to expect when the four-day festival comes to the community of 10,000 this weekend.
“I think it’s going to be good for the town,” said Posselt, 35. “But how are we going to support all these people?”
Welcome to Waconia, home of Nickle Dickle Day, the Carver County Fair, one of the state’s biggest snowmobile shows and, beginning Thursday, 2014’s Taste of Minnesota.
Thirty musical acts, 30 vendors and four nights of dazzling fireworks displays have relocated from St. Paul’s flooded Harriet Island to this pastoral suburban hamlet, which Waconia Chamber of Commerce President Kellie Sites assures out-of-towners really can be found on a map.
“I’m getting calls from people within a 500-mile radius who are interested in the bands, in the event,” Sites said. “I tell them, ‘Here’s the Twin Cities and this, slightly west, is where Waconia is.’
“The Governor’s Fishing Opener was here in 2012, the rodeo comes here and Nickle Dickle Day draws about 30,000 people,” Sites said. “They’ll find us. We just don’t know how many people are coming.”
Nor does Linda Maddox, organizer of the event. On Monday, as she surveyed the still-mostly-open fairgrounds where Taste of Minnesota will take place, Maddox noted that the stage had been set up and “apparently, the map is done.”
“I haven’t seen the actual setup,” she said.
A $2 million event coming to Waconia is about as unusual as Minnesota floods in June and July — the circumstances that prevented Taste’s planned return to Harriet Island after a three-year hiatus. The festival, which has drawn an estimated 200,000 people a year, dates to 1983 but hadn’t been held since 2010.
“It’s the Taste of Minnesota, not the Taste of St. Paul or Taste of Minneapolis,” said Craig Gass, of Gass Concessions, which supplies fresh-squeezed lemonade, corn dogs, foot-longs and other fair staples at Taste.
“I feel bad for the organizers, but you can’t do anything when Mother Nature unloads,” he said. “I’m sure people from the eastern part of the metro are disappointed, but it’s less than a 30-minute drive from Minneapolis. Waconia is charming. It’s not the end of the Earth.”
Long after event organizers secured the Carver County Fairgrounds, the scramble to get the event ready has continued this week.
Holiday travel often makes the week of July 4th a slower time for some restaurants located near Lake Waconia, the second-largest area lake after Lake Minnetonka. Shonna Caswell, owner of Unhinged Pizza, worked feverishly to be part of Taste, completing “about three months of paperwork in two days,” she said. Technicalities made her last-second attempt impossible.
‘We’re gonna go’
Caswell said she has never been to Taste but has heard from folks in western exurban communities like Glencoe, Belle Plaine and Rockford who are embracing the opportunity.
“They tell me, ‘We’re gonna go. We’ve always wanted to go,’ ” she said.
Mayor Jim Nash said he is thrilled Taste has come to Waconia. Chamber President Sites said all the area hotels are booked. But some of the townspeople have tempered their enthusiasm with cautious tones.
“Our county fair is pretty big, but this is for the entire state,” said Nicole Sullivan, 19. “I’m not sure where they’re going to park.”
MacKenna Trnka, 18, is scheduled to bartend this weekend at the Waconia Saloon, owned by her father.
“I’m nervous,” she said. “I hope I can keep up.”
Added resident Karen Ring, 60: “I’m excited that it’s here, but not excited about the traffic or riffraff it might bring.”
But merchants are excited about the exposure their city is receiving.
“We’ve done the V.I.P. hospitality tent at the Basilica Block Party [in Minneapolis] and the Governor’s Fishing Opener,” said Niall MacCafferty, operations manager for Lola’s Lakehouse, the local restaurant that will sell fish tacos and corn beef sandwiches at Taste. “But you can’t buy publicity like this.”
Waconia will go on with the fireworks display the Chamber of Commerce planned long before Taste arrived, with four nights of fireworks designed to light up the city of St. Paul.
“People in St. Paul will be disappointed,” said Kernal Buhler, Taste’s marketing guru. “On the other hand, this may be the greatest fireworks show anywhere for a town of 10,000 people.”
Until the gates open at 11 a.m. on Thursday, nobody can safely predict whether they explode beyond expectations or simply fizzle.
“A gentleman from Wisconsin called the office yesterday and said he’s gong to drive here to see Halestorm,” Maddox said of one of the featured bands. “So we know people are excited.
“I just hope this works.”