HOUGHTON - With Bridgefest and Seafood Fest combining into a single event - Bridgefest FEAST - this summer, organizers are taking the food for the event in a whole new direction.
Instead of the Houghton Rotary singlehandedly cooking and serving food for the thousands of people who normally descend on the Houghton waterfront, food vending for the event is being turned over to the Library Restaurant and & Brew Pub, Habaneros, Fitzgerald's Restaurant and the Michigan Technological University Dining Services.
There will be a fifth food line featuring traditional Seafood Fest fare like snow crab clusters, calamari and chowder, but the rest of the menu will branch off in a variety of appetizing directions.
"The menu is much broader, and has a much broader appeal," said Bill Musselman, chairman of the Bridgefest FEAST committee.
"I ran into a buddy at the grocery store, said the event will have these four entities and listed them off," Musselman added. "He said, 'You had me at the Fitz.'"
Musselman said Rotary began thinking about changing the food format last year, after 27 years of all-volunteer kitchens. He said food had become the biggest cost for the event, the size of the menu had ballooned, and the same people were putting in long hours year after year.
Taking his cue from the Marquette West Rotary, which had made a similar transition successfully, he approached Jim Cortright, co-owner of the Library and Habaeros and a long-time Seafood Fest volunteer, to ask him about restaurants taking over.
"His response was, 'We're in 200 percent,'" Musselman said.
For the FEAST, the Library will be serving a variety of reasonably priced dishes including two kinds of sushi rolls, Philly cheesesteaks and Philly chicken sandwiches. Habaeros will feature tacos, chorizo on a roll, and guacamole and chips.
"They're things we want to highlight and also things we can do in a massive volume," Cortright said.
Cortright said a large part of the fun would be working with his culinary colleagues. All of the vendors will be ordering food together and helping each other out throughout the weekend, and profits or losses will be divided equally.
"The way we're structuring it, we're basically all one group," he said. "We're all friends, so it's going to be fun working together."
Fitzgerald's will feature its pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, items co-owner Mike Lamotte says represent the restaurant's best cooking.
"Personally, the brisket is my favorite," he said. "It's hard to cook right, but when we do it right it's awfully tasty."
Tech Dining Services will feature baked lake trout, chicken souvlaki pitas, and poutine, a Quebecois version of French fries made with cheese curds and gravy.
Tech Director of Auxiliary Services Bob Hiltunen said he first became a member of Rotary because of Seafood Fest, and he still loves working the event.
"Thursday, there's nothing there," he said. "You set up, sell $70,000 worth of food, and on Sunday you're gone. It's amazing."
At Tech, he said, he's no longer regularly involved in working directly with food, "so to get my hands dirty again is fun," he added.
Musselman said Rotary would be losing some revenue from food sales with the new format, but hoped to recoup that money by charging a $5 cover for adults who wish to purchase beer and wine.
The Rotary will also be selling both adult beverages and soft drinks.
The best way to prepare for the event, he said, is to buy food and beverage tokens online ahead of time at bridgefestfeast.com. Those buying ahead get a $1 token thrown in for every $10 purchased.
The site also includes a full menu, event schedule and more.
Musselman noted there are also just two tables left for the Thursday night Gala that precedes the main event.
The Gala will feature South American fare, a wine auction and the opportunity to have corporate logos placed on tables.
Tickets are $75 per seat or $600 per table.
For tickets, call Musselman at 523-5014. For more information, or to purchase tokens visit bridgefestfeast.com.
Musselman also thanked PickAxe Creative for their contribution designing the Bridgefest FEAST logo.