HISTORY of the Festival and the Organization that runs it
People are always surprised when we tell them that the Festival is run by a Board of Directors consisting of volunteers from the local community. There is only one full-time staff member. They're also fascinated by the fact that the concept began 25 years ago when a number of competitors decided to get together to participate in what is now known as co-op or coalition advertising.
The Festival is organized by the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA, a not-for-profit organization, run by a volunteer Board, and Chaired by Constantine Voidonicolas. The GreekTown on the Danforth BIA is an excellent example of how a BIA can unite local restaurateurs and retailers, along a street, to promote businesses.
The Festival began as a celebration of Hellenic cuisine and culture. It has grown to become a celebration of both its Greek heritage and the multicultural nature of the City of Toronto. While a number of the events and programs are reflective of the area's Greek roots, the Festival programming and its audience have grown to encompass a much broader spectrum of the Toronto community.
The Festival began in 1994 when a group of restaurateurs on the Danforth tried to find new ways to entice people to come to the Danforth, and enjoy their amazing Greek cuisine. They decided that rather than advertising individually, they would be better off pooling their resources and advertising together. The idea was to set up "tasting tables” - so that individuals could try food fare from a number of restaurants, and thus the “Taste” of the Danforth began. In order to encourage people to try various dishes, the prices were kept very low and even today, no tasting item costs more than $6.
In the first year, approximately 5,000 people attended the Festival. Twenty-three restaurateurs participated, selling an eclectic mix of "tastes" from tasting tables. The following year, attendance grew to 100,000. By 1996, the Festival was so large that Danforth Avenue had to be officially closed to vehicular traffic in order to accommodate over 500,000 visitors. Today, the Festival has grown to approximately 1.6 million visitors during the course of three nights and two days. They come to enjoy food, free entertainment and culture. The Taste of the Danforth is one of Toronto’s signature events, showcasing the best of what our multicultural city has to offer - music and the arts, sports and -- of course -- food.
GREEKTOWN GIVES BACK TO THE COMMUNITY - PROFITS DONATED TO CHARITY
The Festival combines exquisite food, culture and music, with extraordinary philanthropy, to benefit the local community. Profits from the Festival are donated every year back to the community by the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA and its Chair Constantine Voidonicolas.
Over the years, GreekTown has donated more than $2 million to Toronto East General Hospital (now renamed Michael Garron Hospital). In 2015, GreekTown made a commitment to a joint hospital project between SickKids and a children’s hospital in Greece - Agia Sofia.
The Festival and GreekTown have also supported additional charities and causes, such as Prostate Cancer, and Athletics Ontario, among others. GreekTown has donated to a number of other local charities, including Toronto Crime Stoppers, 55 Division’s Youth Scholarship Fund, Riverdale Share Community Association, The East York Seniors’ Foundation, local soccer clubs and to Dr. Phyllis Billia’s cancer research at Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals.
GreekTown naturally supports a number of Greek initiatives, including donating to the Greek Community of Toronto to help families and schools, SOS Villages which gives orphans and mothers a home, the Smile of a Child, University of Toronto’s Greek studies program, the Hellenic Canadian Federation of Ontario, Nefeli (theatre and dance), Greek Community of Mississauga, and the Hellenic Home for the Aged.
As part of GreekTown’s annual “March of the Santas”, monies are raised for Princess Margaret Hospital through the sale of Toronto Firefighters’ Calendars, and toys and donations are gathered for the CP24/CHUM Christmas Wish.
Big Economic Impact for Toronto
The Festival and GreekTown on the Danforth BIA contribute significant impact to the Province and City. In 2017, the Festival’s single weekend economic impact was $106 million. These numbers are based on governmental economic models tied to tourism. They don’t take into account the great economic impact that the Festival has on the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA’s members, which consist primarily of small retailers and restaurateurs.
The Festival is a tourist magnet: 39% of attendees (635 700) travelled 40 kilometres or more to attend the Taste of the Danforth last summer. The primary reason for visiting the Toronto region for 97% of visitors was the Festival. For a significant 38.5%, their sole reason for coming to Toronto was the Festival.
Equally important to the province’s economy is the fact that 94% of out-of-towners plan to return this year.
People continue to love the Festival – 97% rated it as Good, Very Good or Excellent.