Taste of Charlotte brings sights and smells to Tryon Street

In terms of sensory experiences, Taste of Charlotte is hard to beat.

You can see the crowds and hear the music several blocks away, and once you pass through the festival’s entrance, tent-lined Tryon Street is teeming with smells.

Speakers on every corner of the five-block festival route ensure visitors never go between vendors without hearing a classic song and singing along.

And then there’s the food.

People walked from tent to tent Friday afternoon, munching on bite-sized tacos drizzled with spicy sauces and fresh-baked waffle cones filled with ice cream.

It was a 9-to-5 lunch-break dream.

But for the folks on the other side of the folding tables, Friday’s cloudless sky was the real godsend during the lunch rush.

“The weather dictates profits,” said Beth Volk, owner of Cousins Kettle Corn.

Volk and her family have brought their kettle corn to Taste of Charlotte since 2005. After all, Volk said, uptown Charlotte is where they get the biggest crowds and their best customers.

Nine years later, they’ve had their share of good years and bad.

In 2007, rain kept the crowds away and sales dwindled. But the clear skies in 2012 brought a consistent flow of customers coming up to the booth all weekend.

“It’s a combination of the weather and figuring out how to work the festival,” Volk said. “That’s what determines how well we do.”

Though Friday saw nothing but blue skies and sunshine, the rest of the weekend may not follow suit. Saturday morning’s high humidity, paired with a good chance of thunderstorms Sunday, could keep customers home and vendors out in the rain.

Down the street from Volk, at the Brazz Carvery & Steakhouse booth, manager Zankhna Naik couldn’t trade tokens for plates fast enough. Naik echoed Volk and credited her long lines to Friday’s sunny skies.

“Every customer has walked away satisfied and the lines have been long,” Naik said. “We’re just hoping the weather sticks out the weekend for us.”

Helen Beach, Fuel Pizza regional sales manager, said she’s noticed two trends over the 10 years her restaurant has come to Taste of Charlotte: If the festival does well, her booth does well, and if the weather is good, so is business.

This year things are good, so far, Beach said.

“We’re looking forward to when the sun goes down, though,” she said. “Hopefully the lines will be even longer when it cools down.”

Elwoods Barbeque & Burger Bar was cooking ribs for the first time at Taste of Charlotte, and the line stretched four tents away from the grill.

Elwoods catering manager Millisa Bodkin said she was warned about the possibility of weather affecting crowd turnout. But Bodkin isn’t too worried about Elwoods’ inaugural-year profits.

In fact, she’s confident the lines will stay long.

“As hot as it is,” Bodkin said, wiping her own forehead, “people still want barbecue.”