IRONWOOD TOWNSHIP — Nearly 200 area residents enjoyed tasty treats and an upbeat atmosphere Monday evening at the Gogebic Community College Foundation’s fourth annual “Taste of the Gogebic Range.”
Thirteen restaurants in Ironwood and Hurley offered samples of steak, chicken and pasta entrees; soups, sandwiches, desserts and more. Participants were the Branding Iron Pub, Breakwater Restaurant, Don and GG’s Food and Spirits, the Elk and Hound, Golden Dragon Chinese and Japanese Restaurant, Iron Nugget, the Little Pizza Place, Manny’s Restaurant, Maplewood Steakhouse, the Northernaire, Olde Suffolk Ale House, Sharon’s Coffee Company and Steep Creek Cafe.
A popular annual event, the “Taste” has sold out the 200 tickets allotted to it each previous year, according to Foundation director Kelly Marczak. A limited amount of tickets allows the group to accommodate attendees comfortably and helps businesses plan how much food to prepare.
Marczak said the best part of the evening is the overall positive atmosphere. “The restaurants enjoy the interaction with the people, and the people who come enjoy the opportunity to socialize with other friends and acquaintances,” she said. “And the food is just amazing.”
The social aspect of the event is another draw for attendees, even becoming a tradition for some. “We do have several groups that have been coming just about every year,” said Linda Gustafson, a Foundation board member.
Wayne Ozark, a cook at the Branding Iron, said he and fellow cook Mike Canon enjoyed interacting with the attendees and they received plenty of positive feedback. “This is a lot of fun,” Ozark said, adding that he hopes to participate in the “Taste” again.
The event serves as a fundraiser for the GCC Foundation, which works to support GCC and its students. Money raised by the event comes almost entirely from ticket sales and has supported general Foundation operations in the past. Future funds from the event may have a more focused use. “We’re discussing whether we’re going to do a specific scholarship based on the event,” Marczak said.
Other Foundation fundraisers include a scholarship golf scramble each August, its “Celebration of Achievements” banquet every October and the Pine-to-Palm Pasty Picnic held each March in Florida.
Many attendees left the event commenting on how “delicious” the food was and discussing their favorites. Those opinions are important since they vote to choose which business wins the “Tasters’ Choice” award. A panel of three anonymous judges also choose a “Best in Show” award based on overall display, presentation and taste.
The Branding Iron won the Taster’s Choice Award, while the Iron Nugget was chosen the Best in Show.
The awards promote a bit of friendly competition between participants, Marczak said. “They’ve really picked it up a notch or two,” she said. “They’re doing little fancy things. They want bragging rights.”
The evening also allows local businesses to reach new potential customers. “One of the other good things is the opportunity for people to experience new foods that they wouldn’t normally try,” Marczak said.
Colin DiGiorgio, who owns and operates the Iron Nugget with his wife Janet, agreed. “We enjoy coming out, seeing lots of people we know and meeting new people too,” he said. DiGiorgio said participating can serve as a “test run” for new dishes while they get more exposure.
He said he also enjoys being able to help the Foundation and contribute to a good cause. “Both of us win,” DiGiorgio said. “It’s a great time.”
Participating businesses provide their samples and services free as a donation to the event. Marczak was very appreciative of all their support. “Without these restaurants supporting the college in this way, we wouldn’t be able to have such a successful event,” she said. “It’s truly amazing that they do this.”