A celebration of the town's Saugatuck neighborhood returns this year with the revival of the "Slice of Saugatuck Festival" in September.
The third "Slice," itself a replacement for the long-running Festival Italiano, which was last staged in 2010, returns after a year's hiatus on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 1 to 4 p.m.
The event will promote local merchants while raising money for the homeless and hungry.
Billed as a family-friendly "wine and food retail" experience, the Slice of Saugatuck Festival attracted more than 2,200 people during each of the previous years, said Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing the event.
"I'm so happy to be able to bring this festival back," said Mandell. "It is a triple win for Westport. It promotes the Saugatuck merchants, gives the community a great event and raises money for the homeless and hungry."
The Gillespie Center's food pantry will again be the beneficiary, having received a $5,000 donation from proceeds after the 2012 festival. "This is a great partnership for us," said Jeff Wieser, the executive director of Homes with Hope and its Gillespie Center. "Our residents get paid to work at the festival, it supports our food pantry, and it gives the entire neighborhood a boost."
Founded by Mandell as a Representative Town Meeting member in 2011, the festival is a walking, eating and retail tour of Saugatuck Center, where merchants offer samples of their wares.
"Slice" was planned as a replacement for Festival Italiano, which had a 27-year run in the neighborhood until its organizer, Roberta Troy, announced in 2011 that the popular summer was being disbanded.
Initially --with 30 participating merchants the first year -- Slice of Saugatuck grew to 42 in 2012 and should top that this time, further promoting the boom in restaurants and retail in the area, according to Mandell.
"We and most of the other merchants missed having the festival last year, it was a such a positive for business and the area," said Harry Brady, co-owner of Viva Zapata's, one of the first eateries to support the endeavor. "We are looking forward to again seeing the streets filled with people coming to check it out and see how vibrant things are."
Maria Funicello, an owner of Tutti's Ristorante, said she looks forward to having people come try its food that day.
In particular, she said, Tutti's will be offering its specialty, Chicken Scarpariello, a "spicy chicken with potatoes and cherry peppers." There will also be "pizza and eggplant parmigiano -- a pretty good spread" with Italian music outdoors, she added.
Funicello said Tutti's, co-owned by husband, Pasquale, who also is the chef, has participated in the two previous Slice of Saugatuck events. She said they do it more for the community spirit than to attract new customers. Although, she admitted, the festival is a good way to "get bring people down here to this part of Westport for a change."
She said it's "a great thing to do and it helps others" and besides, she added, "it's great fun."
Black Duck Cafe owner Peter Aitkin agreed. He said he plans to offer "cheeseburger sliders and/or chicken wings." He still hasn't finalized his plans.
Aitkin said he's been involved in the event each year it was offered and found an uptick in his own business the second year he was involved.
There will be six or more vendor locations throughout the festival area with different bands playing, including three Staples student bands playing a "battle of the bands" type promotion to showcase Toquet Hall, the town teen center.
The historic Saugatuck Fire Station will again be an activity center, featuring an antique truck and the fire safety trailer to teach children what to do in case of a fire, Mandell said.
There will also be balloon artists, face painting and a bouncy house set up on Railroad Place, which will be closed during the event to enhance the block party feel.
Tickets, with a "passport" to promote sampling at various food stations, will cost $10 per adult and $5 for children 6 to 12 years old.