‘Taste of the County’ brings hope for a return to normalcy

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Gracia Shao-Xue

A restaurant employee helps a customer to his choice of food at the “Taste of the County.”

In an effort to recognize local restaurants that had donated meals to healthcare workers and families in need during the pandemic, a festival called “Taste of the County” brought restaurants and businesses together at the San Mateo County Event Center on Oct. 2 to allow community members to socialize and taste new foods.

Dozens of restaurants expressed gratitude for being able to participate in the event, as they had been struggling due to COVID-19.

“There were so many challenges with regards to customers being allowed into your restaurant, having to pivot to do mainly to-go business, which represented a small percentage of our business at the start, and then you had to make it all of your business,” said Micheal Mallie, owner of Jack’s Prime Burgers & Shakes.

Despite the detrimental effect of COVID-19 on Mallie’s business, he was able to work out a system that ultimately kept the business running.

“We provided meals for nurses and doctors who were working around the clock. So, we started with donations, then people starting donating to the foundation. They were able to buy some food from us. So, that helped keep us in business while we were able to donate to the charity and foundation of the hospital,” Mallie said.

For restaurants and the San Mateo County Health Foundation, “Taste of the County” acts as a major source of publicity. Rose Wolfrom, a business owner who is a part of the mother-daughter pair that runs Cool Jams, highlighted how important this sort of event was for the company.

“A lot of what we do [deals with] brand exposure and word of mouth, so sometimes we just have to take a gamble and hope that it’ll be financially beneficial. Everything has to be just right: foot traffic, good location, and demographics,” Wolfrom said.

These businesses and restaurants came to “Taste of the County” to entertain the general public and attract new customers. With lawn games and tasting booths, some attendees of the event appreciated the social element of the festival.

“It was nice to be in a social environment and finally get out of the house,” said Ruby Cheema, a local Belmont resident.

With such a large gathering, some attendees noted their reservations and concerns regarding COVID-19 but were not deterred from participating.

“This year, my only concern would be the level of masking and the ability to social distance [to prevent] another breakout,” Cheema said.

The success of the event indicated a return to normalcy for many business owners. As the prospect of a more normal year becomes more likely, these businesses and restaurants are seeing a steady increase in clientele. However, for many restaurants and businesses, customer attendance has not reached pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re not jumping into the pool like everybody else is. We are still socially distancing our tables and doing a lot of other things, but there’s a lot more activity and a lot more guests willing to come out,” said Simon Johnson, the general manager at The Fish Market.

Even though restaurants are starting to regain their regular customers, Johnson underscored that a return to normal after the pandemic will take time.

Johnson said, “Things are getting better slowly.”