“Something to do with this festival — a place,” the game-show host prods the stumped, shrugging man. She finally tells him: “It’s Greece!”
The game was in the middle of Krinos Taste of the Danforth — a 23-year-old party that honours its Greektown roots while also offering sushi, bourbon samples, pro sports swag and the Miss and Mr. Asia Toronto contest.
“It’s a Greek festival but the street has changed and so has the festival,” says Marinos Dafnas, who since 2002 has owned Messini Authentic Gyros which drew a long line, teased by the smell of roasting meat, on sunny Saturday.
“The restaurant owners who started it, they retired. Greek restaurants started disappearing when the next generation didn’t want to take over,” said Dafnas, guessing he has watched 30 Greek eateries shrink to about 10.
“Then new blood came in which is international. I’m not sad at all — I take it as it comes.”
Taste of the Danforth started in 1994 when merchants decided that, rather than advertise individually, they would set up tasting tables selling souvlaki on a stick, and other then-exotic dishes, for a maximum $5 per item.
Some 5,000 people turned up. That jumped to 100,000 the following year and kept rising, necessitating street closures, to a current expected 1.6 million over a full weekend that ends Sunday at 10 p.m.
The enforced $5 maximum is a rare festival constant, along with the fact that net proceeds from sponsorships and vendor fees go to charity.
The Danforth, once home to cafes full of men talking politics while swinging komboloi worry beads, and butchers displaying skinned rabbits, has gentrified and diversified, and so has the yearly taste of it.
“The festival very purposely is a multicultural festival with a dollop of tzatziki on the top,” says Howard Lichtman of Greektown on the Danforth BIA, the merchants’ group that organizes it.
“It’s by design and it represents the changing face of Canada, the changing face of Toronto and the changing face of the Danforth. We have Greek programming but we intentionally don’t want it all to be Greek.”
Jaspal Singh, serving Indian food at the Sher-E-Punjab restaurant his parents started in 1975, says: “I think it’s more of a food festival but obviously there are a lot of Greek restaurants. It’s just the diversity of the area and Toronto.”
Both Singh and Dafnas said Saturday crowds were down from those several years ago, when the street was so packed it was difficult to move.
They both cited competition from other events but Lichtman suggested it had to do more with faulty predictions of stormy weather.
Patrons seemed fine with some elbow room and a culturally diverse Taste.
“We definitely come for the Greek food — everything else is a bonus,” said Markham retiree Rob Nolk, a repeat visitor with his wife, Kelly.
Christine Selinger, a 29-year-old educator, sat in the shade happily munching on a meal of souvlaki, perogies and sangria.
“I like food,” she said, “and, as long as other businesses aren’t coming in and forcing out the locals, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t all Greek.”
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