Italians and Italian food-lovers had heavy hearts (and empty stomachs) this June when the city’s annual Italian Street Festival was canceled in the absence of anyone to coordinate the event. Unwilling to accept a year without an Italian heritage celebration, Virginia Iozzo, of the Iozzo’s Garden of Italy family (946 S. Meridian St., 317-974-1100), began planning a different festival to tide the community over until the 29-year-old institution returns next June. Hosted by Iozzo’s, Taste of Italy will be held at 3 p.m. on Oct. 13 at Holy Rosary Parish (520 Stevens St.). The free event will feature the bands Indy Nile and South Six 5. Here, Iozzo tells us how the festival got a second chance.
Amanda Hart: What did you think when you heard the festival was cancelled?
Virginia Iozzo: I was actually with my family when I found out. It was almost unbelieveable. But after finding out more about why it happened, we understood. Still, the first thing that came to my mind was that we have to do something about this. We can’t just let it end.
AH: Did you know right away that you wanted to host an alternative event?
VI: Yes, absolutely. My sister and I started brainstorming ways to possibly take over for Holy Rosary as event coordinators. It all kind of fell into place when we started talking to my cousin Katie, who owns Iozzo’s. Everyone wanted to be part of it, and the planning began. Holy Rosary was 100-percent behind us.
AH: How is Taste of Italy going to be different from the festival held in June?
VI: It’s only a one-day event. Usually the festival is a two-day event. This year we’re going to be offering local Italian restaurants and food vendors the chance to come down and make some money. We’re not keeping any of their profits, and we’re not charging them to come down to the festival, so it’s kind of a really neat deal for just all local vendors to get their name out.
AH: Who are some of the vendors?
VI: Iozzo’s is going to do something along the lines of lasagna and antipasto salad. Lino’s Coffee–a big Italian vendor that just came to Indianapolis–is bringing coffee and paninis. NY Slice does an Italian-style pizza, so that’s going to be the affordable option. And then Little Italy will be doing pastas. We have South of Chicago coming with Italian beef sandwiches. We’re also looking at having any type of sandwich shop come in with Italian soups, and another bistro possibly. We’ve got quite a few lined up.
AH: Has it been difficult to pull it all together?
VI: Absolutely. I think putting on a festival of this magnitude in any circumstance is difficult, but for the most part it’s been pretty smooth. I have a lot of respect for the gentlemen who put it on every year. It is quite the undertaking. My biggest concern and focus right now is just getting the word out to the city. Attendance is everything.
AH: Any chance this could become its own annual thing in October?
VI: We thought about that. I guess really at this point we will just see how it goes. I would hate to even begin to compete … or not even compete, it wouldn’t be a competition … with the Italian festival. But we would have to talk to them and have their continued blessing on that. It’s the question of once the festival does get back next year in full force, will that suffice for people, will that fill their Italian hunger for the year? Or is there still going to be that want to have something other than that.