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On 20th anniversary, Taste of Catonsville is all grown up

Twenty years ago, the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce sought a way to support its Fourth of July Committee and get restaurants to join the organization.

It started an event, known then as Business After Business, that featured food from six different spots in Catonsville under a tent at ABC Equipment Rental.

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From there, the event started to grow. It outgrew venues and hopped to different locales around town. The Chamber tried different calendar dates, as well.

In recent years, a match has been made for the gathering, now called Taste of Catonsville. This year's event, which will be held June 6, is the fourth in a row that will take place in June and the third consecutive held at the Overhills Mansion.

Taste of Catonsville brings food from 24 bakeries, restaurants, caterers, specialty stores and farmers' market vendors under one roof. There are also beer and wine tastings from Ellicott City's Manor Hill Brewing and The Wine Bin.

"The Taste reflects the growth in Catonsville," said Teal Cary, the chamber's executive director.

It also reflects how the food community has evolved since the event started in 1996. Back then, the restaurant scene was mostly composed of sports bars and smaller establishments, Cary said.

As time went on, the demographics showed Catonsville could support more growth in that industry, she said. She is not surprised to see more restaurants pop up since the first Taste of Catonsville.

Now, there's more variety for customers to enjoy, and many of the restaurant owners live locally, she said.

"Catonsville has weathered the recession really well," she said. "I just think they see it as a viable community and a viable area to open up shop in."

"What I've seen is there's plenty to go around," said Jim Furletti, co-owner of Franco's Italian Bistro, which opened in October 2014. "The competition hasn't impaired anyone. I think it's only helped bring people in. It's been a positive thing."

Furletti has lived in Catonsville for 35 years. As he wondered why successful restaurants do well — most, on a percentage basis fail, he said — he thought about the community. About eight of 10 customers in his restaurant are locals who he has seen before, he said.

"I think the answer is a community like Catonsville wants to support its own," he said. "If you're doing a good job, putting out a good product at a good price, the community will get behind you."

An event like Taste of Catonsville helps bring a positive impact on local restaurants, he said.

Franco's will serve its homemade meatballs, sausage and peppers and a pasta dish with red sauce at this year's event.

Furletti, participating for the second time, believes it's important to be involved to establish good will and remain active in the community.

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"The turnouts have always been really strong," he said.

For restaurants, Taste of Catonsville can have a few goals. Newcomers can use the event to get their names out there, while standbys can highlight new additions to their menus or let patrons enjoy an old favorite.

Community opportunity

As the event has evolved, some participants change, while others stay the same. Many are new to the area, Cary said.

One of several new restaurants making their Taste of Catonsville debut this year is Sneha Indian Cuisine, which opened last June. This will mark the first time the restaurant has served food outside of its Baltimore National Pike location, but it won't be the last. General manager Ravi Kuriseti plans to offer his food at Frederick Road Friday events in the summer.

But the Taste comes first, and he's excited to be able to showcase his food beyond his restaurant.

"For us it gives us an opportunity," Kuriseti said. "It gives an opportunity to give a taste of our Indian food to the community."

Dimitri's International Grille has been a Taste of Catonsville mainstay over the years. Tom Wethern, one of the restaurant's owners, said he's lost count as to how many times his restaurant has taken part in the annual event.

For an established restaurant, the idea of taking part in Catonsville isn't to grab someone's attention; it's to make sure it's not forgotten about.

As an owner of one of the few restaurants that have been around for the past two decades in Catonsville, Wethern has seen a wide variety of places to eat pop up in town, from smaller bistros to family-dining establishments.

"It's all about staying top of mind in the public eye," he said.

The restaurant will serve spanakopita — spinach pie — along with its popular Greek salad and mezze dips — hummus, tzatziki and fiery feta.

"Dimitri's is built on core recipes," he said. "That's what people come here for."

As Taste of Catonsville turns 20 this year, the purpose remains the same. The chamber continues to give a portion of funds to the Fourth of July Committee while highlighting some of Catonsville's cuisine.

"It reflects the wonderful variety of restaurants that we have in the area now," Cary said, "which I think reflects the community as a whole."

If You Go

Taste of Catonsville

When: 6-9 p.m. Monday, June 6

Where: Overhills Mansion, 916 S. Rolling Road, Catonsville

Online: catonsville.org

Call: 410-719-9609

Cost: $35 in advance, $45 at the door

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