Saratoga Chowderfest brings cash and chowder in its 25th year

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The silver anniversary of this year’s annual Saratoga Chowderfest could once again set new records — something Darryl Leggeri, president of Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, welcomes.

“I think this is one of the largest festivals that Saratoga County and the region has in the first quarter, and this year will be no exception,” he said.

According to Discover Saratoga, 111,639 bowls of chowder were served from 82 different vendors last year, with more than 30,000 people participating in the annual soup festival.

Amy Englemann of Guilderland, left, and Becky Zuccaro of Boston after finishing a sample of chowder on Caroline Street last year. STAN HUDY

“I think it means everything to the participants that hop on board this festival because it offers significant economic impact,” Leggeri said. “It creates a nice shot in the arm in terms of revenue for our small businesses in upstate New York in the dead of winter when it is otherwise a very slow time of the year. That’s why this festival was created: to get folks through the first quarter so they can make it to the busier times in the spring, summer and fall.”

This year more than 80 restaurants will participate in the event, pouring 4-ounce samples for $2 each at their establishments throughout downtown Saratoga Springs — some outside on the sidewalk, some at the Saratoga Springs City Center and some at their restaurants in Saratoga County.

“I love to see that,” Leggeri said. “People create their own strategies about the day. ‘Maybe we’ll do Ballston Spa or Route 9 or Saratoga Lake first before we go into town.’

“They may just find that they are happy in a certain town and just want to stay there and make a day of it. That’s OK. That’s what it’s all about. I love that it is popular in Saratoga Springs, but I really appreciate the fact that we are expanding beyond that to interesting points throughout the county.”

To assist with congestion on Saturday, Chowderfest will offer a free shuttle service from the Saratoga Casino Hotel parking lot continuously from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

See the map at DailyGazette.com

Leggeri has seen the event blossom throughout his career in Saratoga Springs. He spent more than two decades in the hospitality industry before taking his position at Discover Saratoga in 2018.

He has seen the event grow since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think people are more aware of how important that is to support small businesses, to patronize them, because they mean everything,” Leggeri siad. “They really define our communities and it’s so important to have them. I’d like to give people a lot of credit that they are still thinking that way.”

Competition is fierce, and judging is not limited to a few discerning palettes — everyone who attends has a vote. And at Chowderfest, every vote counts.

“It’s based on the votes that each participant receives,” Leggeri said. “The attendees vote for their favorite on our website so we can tabulate all of those votes. We place all the trust in them to tell us what their favorites are.”

Last year, Artisanal Brew Works won the People’s Choice 500-bowls-or-less category with its roasted chicken, corn and potato chowder. Six other categories were decided. Druthers Brewing Company earned the top honor and biggest servings, winning the 4,000-plus-bowls-served category with its shrimp, crab and corn chowder, accompanied by a lobster hush puppy.

Leggeri supported the event as a participant before joining Discover Saratoga.

“I knew it was a festive event and it was a nice change of pace to get outside, stroll around with your friends and check out what is going on and taste some good chowder,” he said. “People try to connect with their friends, connect with their families, come out and have an authentic experience, and that is what Chowderfest is all about.”

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