By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – The Highlands Business Partnership is moving forward with its second annual Taste of Highlands event, slated for June 22 throughout town.
Carla Cefalo-Braswell, the partnership’s president, said there were discussions about canceling the event this year – despite how well it was received last year – because of the obstacles the community has faced during the last seven months as residents and business owners have worked to recover from the impact of Super Storm Sandy.
“We had a dream of pulling it off, even with so many of our businesses were closed,” Cefalo-Braswell said.
So far, about 16 restaurants and eateries have committed to the June 22 event. Last year, 21 participated, she said. While there will be fewer establishments participating, attendees will find the same quality that last year’s event highlighted. “You’re truly getting delicious food,” from some of the finest eateries and biggest draws in the area, Cefalo-Braswell said.
Sandy hit Highlands hard, causing extensive damage, displacing many families and causing businesses to remain closed for months; many are still not open.
This year promoting the event has been somewhat problematic.
“A lot of people thought we weren’t going to have it because a lot of our restaurants were closed,” Cefalo-Braswell said.
Out of about 25 restaurants and eateries in the borough, 18 have reopened. Unfortunately, Cefalo-Braswell said, there is a handful that likely will not reopen following the storm damage, including the Clam Hut, which had been operating for decades.
The second annual Taste of Highlands, like last year’s event, will feature food and cocktails from the various borough locations from noon to 5 p.m. Ticketholders can come to either Veterans Park at Bay and Shrewsbury avenues or Huddy Park, Waterwich Avenue, to catch a ride with one of the party limousine buses that will be running throughout the day. Participants also can walk from site to site.
Ticketholders will receive a drawstring backpack and a map marking the locations. Those who get their maps marked at all the participating establishments will qualify for a chance to win a $200 “Bid Buck” gift certificate, which can be used at any of the participating locations.
Last year’s event turned out to be successful with many people waiting until the day of the event to purchase tickets, Cefalo-Braswell said. That success was a motivating factor in holding the event again.
“It was well received,” said Doug Lentz, whose Inlet Café, 3 Cornwall St., in the business district, participated last year and will again be part of it.
His restaurant was damaged in the storm and only reopened last month, so for Lentz, “anything that can raise our exposure is a good thing.”
Now, business owners are just hoping for the weather to cooperate.
“You get 16 weeks,” for the all-important summer season, he said, “and you’ve got to make the best of them.”
Tickets are $40, the same as last year, and can be purchased at any of the participating locations or on the day of the event.
The Taste of Highlands is being sponsored by the business partnership, the organization that markets and advocates for the local business improvement district, and by the Sandy Hook Police Benevolent Association. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association for its efforts to construct a playground in Highlands. The playground will be one of 26 to be built in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey as part of the association’s Where Angels Play project, in memory of the victims of Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.