Toronto

Rejoice Filipino foodies! The Taste of Manila festival could be back on

The Taste of Manila, which was cancelled just weeks ago over budget concerns, looks like its back on as organizers hold emergency meetings with the city.

City intervened to help save food and culture event initially axed over budget concerns

Taste of Manila bills itself the 'largest Filipino festival outside the Philippines.' Now organizers might get a second chance to host the annual event, thanks to help from the city. (CBC)

The Taste of Manila, which was cancelled just weeks ago over budget concerns, looks like its back on as organizers hold emergency meetings with the city.

"We will make it happen," festival spokesperson Teresa Torralba vowed in a Tuesday interview with CBC Toronto.

Festival organizers are striving to be set up on Aug. 18 and 19 in the heart of the city's growing Filipino community, on Bathurst Street between Wilson and Laurelcrest avenues. A final decision is expected in the coming days.

The summer festival has grown rapidly since its start in 2014, when organizers hoped to get 5,000 people but ended up with 75,000 attendees instead. Two years later, that number surged again to 350,000 people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who swung through to sample some dishes. 

Coun. James Pasternak, who represents the ward where the event is held, said he's "cautiously optimistic" the event will go ahead.

"It's a major economic boost to the area and it's a great celebration of the Filipino culture, heritage and history," he said. 

Initially, this year's event was cancelled due to rising costs that organizers said had stretched their ability to keep up with the fees.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with members of the public during the Taste of Manila festival in 2016. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

"As we get bigger our services get more demanding as well," said Torralba. 

The festival costs between $200,000 and $250,000 to run, she explained. 

Organizers have never received grants and instead relied on money from sponsors, food fendors and exhibitors to survive. It all proved to be too much, Torralba said.

Taste of Manila bills itself as the "largest Filipino street festival outside the Philippines."

"It's sort of like a reunion of everyone Filipino," said Torralba.

However, "as we get bigger our services get more demanding as well," she said. 

Back on track

City officials have now stepped in. 

"There's a real desire for the city to save it and to keep it going," said Pasternak, whose ward includes the area where the festival is held.

As we get bigger our services get more demanding as well.- Teresa  Torralba

Mayor John Tory hosted an emergency meeting Monday with organizers and Pasternak.

"The moment I heard that the Taste of Manila was being cancelled, I started looking for ways to help and to get the festival back on track," Tory said Tuesday in a statement.

"I love this festival."

The meeting's goal is to find a way to save the festival viewed as a "vital, cultural and economic event."

"It's one of the unique festivals ... and it's the position of the city to make sure that these kinds of events thrive outside of the downtown," Pasternak told CBC Toronto.  

'The city is going to do what it can'

But with only three weeks until the event kicks off, many Filipino foodies are nervous they won't be able to enjoy the culinary experience. 

"That's a very short period of time to recontact all the people who think it's cancelled and get them to retake out food booths, which are the bread and butter of the whole event," said Pasternak. 

Taste of Manila has already refunded vendors who originally signed up. 

Food and entertainment rules at the Taste of Manila. (CBC)

Pasternak is helping organizers find ways to streamline the festival by cutting back on "unnecessary expenses" and secure corporate sponsorship.

Police, paramedics and waste management have also agreed to pitch in to slash the event's overall operating cost this year, Pasternak said.  

"Our festival could be just the basic things that we need," said Torralba. "We can even shorten it ... You know, whatever our money can afford."

The final decision will be made Wednesday during a meeting at city hall.

"The city is going to do what it can to help the festival, but it's really up to the organizers to make it work," said Pasternak. 

With files from Ali Chiasson

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