Don’t call it the Sausage Fest. Or do, if that’s what you prefer.
However you look at it, the spirit of the long-running staple of central Vancouver lives on this year in the launch of the Vancouver International Food Festival at St. Joseph Catholic School.
After a 43-year run, the summertime celebration of all things sausage came to an end last September … sort of. Facing declining attendance, the organizers of the festival — a fundraiser for the school — made a difficult decision to lay Sausage Fest to rest.
Then, almost immediately, two longtime Sausage Fest-goers stepped in hoping to breathe new life into the carnivallike feast, rebranding the event with an international theme and an expanded menu. For Shelton and Christine Louie, taking the reins on resurrecting the beloved festival has been a challenge, especially considering its new identity.
“What drove us wasn’t so much the money but the community that we build,” Shelton Louie said. “We want a safe community environment that everybody can enjoy.”
Yes, some in Saturday’s lively crowd still thought of it as Sausage Fest. But changing the name and broadening the selection of food and entertainment this year was a good idea, Christine Louie said. Vancouver is, after all, home to people of many, many nationalities, so why not create a festival that represents the city’s diversity, she said.
Admittedly, some faithful attendees, such as Youth Minister Teri McMahon, miss some of the hallmarks of Sausage Fest that were scrapped from the menu this year, like good ol’ corn on the cob and baked potatoes.
“I was hoping to get my corn on the cob and barbecue,” McMahon said. “They took away my favorites, man.”
But the Louies have tried to encourage everyone to appreciate that the festival features more than three times the variety of entrees, sides and desserts this year. Tamales. Meatball subs. Gyros. Oh, and don’t forget the elephant ears.
And of course, some still come for the sausages. Walking through the crowd Saturday evening, McMahon chomped down on a Zenner’s Sausage variety said to be made only for the festival.
“It’s my favorite thing,” she said. “It’s just a plain sausage on a stick. I don’t do spicy.”
From here, the Louies want to build up the international brand of the festival. In the coming years, they hope to offer a wider variety of food, and maybe they’re already thinking about bringing back that corn on the cob McMahon missed so much.
“What I see is it’s a work in progress,” McMahon said. “I’m embracing this. The same basic things that we all like about Sausage Fest are still here.”