Taste of Brandon converts to community focus for nonprofits

For years, the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's Taste of Brandon invited folks to vote on their favorite morsels. Now it includes an added component to benefit nonprofits. | Times files
For years, the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's Taste of Brandon invited folks to vote on their favorite morsels. Now it includes an added component to benefit nonprofits. | Times files
Published Apr. 18, 2018

BRANDON — When Rick Lewis took over as president and CEO of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce last year, he knew he needed to shake things up.

Brandon, a fast-growing business community, lacked an event to call its own – one that each year would turn heads, highlight all there is to offer and bring visitors to the area.

After consulting with area leaders, Lewis decided the best way to grab attention was to give back to the community he serves. From that, a newly designed Taste of Brandon was born.

The event, held by the chamber since 1994, highlights some of Brandon's most popular restaurants, eateries and businesses through food samplings, spirit tastings and family-themed events. A portion of the money raised from the event went back into the chamber's coffers.

This year, Brandon's nonprofits sold wristbands for the event, and all net proceeds will go back into their pockets to help those in need.

"I wanted to make this a signature event," Lewis said. "I even postponed it last year and rewrote the business plan as something we would do solely for the nonprofits."

It was worth the wait.

This year, for the first time, the Taste of Brandon will be held Saturday at the Westfield Brandon — the geographical and social center of the community, according to Lewis. Vendors will be set up outside the Cheesecake Factory and continue all the way to Macy's.

Lewis is expecting a crowd of thousands to attend as nonprofits have already sold more than 3,000 wristbands for access to the event.

"This is an event that drew 800 to 1,000 to the chamber each year and now it draws thousands of people from the greater Brandon area," he said.

Wristbands can be purchased from area nonprofits that belong to the chamber or from the chamber itself. The cost is $20 for ages 9 and older, $5 for ages 3 to 8, and children under age 2 get into the event for free. Nonprofits will keep $15 of every $20 made from wristband sales.

"Really [nonprofits] are the ones driving the ticket sales," said Chuck Burgess, CEO of Brandon Sports & Aquatic and the chamber's chairman of the board. "That's the way that it should be. It's a community event."

Burgess said proceeds from Taste of Brandon will benefit the center's summer camp programs and allow it to buy a timing system for swim meets. The swim meets, in turn, will bring visitors into the Brandon area that will spend money at its hotels, restaurants, stores and entertainment venues.

"That way we can bid on meets and bring them here to the community … it's certainly an opportunity to help the business community as well," he said.

The Taste of Brandon will boast 60 vendor booths that will not only give patrons a chance to sample some of the area's best foods and spirits, but highlight other for-profit and nonprofit businesses in the area.

Lewis said the chamber wanted to control the number of vendors and patrons attending this year's event, as it's hoping to build upon the new format going forward.

"This year we kept it very much under control as we learn how to do it right and do it well and as we get better at it. This way, we'll let it out a little bit more each year," he said.

Lewis said he's looking toward the future with excitement at the possibilities of how the Taste of Brandon can help the community.

"If we're able to keep even $50,000 a year, after 20 years, that's $1 million to $1.5 million for our nonprofits," he said. "… A little at a time adds up and that's all money that goes back here to the greater Brandon area."

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