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Bite of Bellingham, which drew thousands, ends after 10 years

Rika Wong, right, and Emma Fein prepare lemongrass pork skewers for The Rickshaw during the Bite of Bellingham on Sept. 20, 2015, at Depot Market Square in Bellingham. The annual event has ended after 10 years.
Rika Wong, right, and Emma Fein prepare lemongrass pork skewers for The Rickshaw during the Bite of Bellingham on Sept. 20, 2015, at Depot Market Square in Bellingham. The annual event has ended after 10 years. For The Bellingham Herald

If you were waiting until this year for your first taste of the Bite of Bellingham, you’re out of luck.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership, which has put on the annual event for the past 10 years, said it’s replacing the Bite with, what’s being called for now, Downtown Dining Week.

Last year’s Bite on Sept. 20 brought about 3,500 people to Depot Market Square to try the culinary creations, and drinks, of 25 Whatcom County food trucks and restaurants. Entry was free, but people had to buy tickets to pay for food and drinks.

It was the culminating event for Eat Local Month.

Downtown Dining Week will start next year.

“This new culinary experience will debut in early 2017, and will focus on downtown dining for a full week, rather than a select group of restaurants for one day,” said Lindsey Payne Johnstone, events manager for Downtown Bellingham Partnership, in an interview.

She said there were a number of reasons for ending Bite, including the cost of putting on the event.

“Reasons for the restructure include the desire to engage more downtown businesses, a low financial return on investment with the prior event, and a desire to decrease the amount of work required of vendors,” Payne Johnstone said, although she declined to release financial details.

The Partnership focuses on increasing exposure for downtown businesses. And while Bite brought in a mix of restaurants during its life, the organization realized that many who were downtown didn’t take part in the event.

Downtown Dining Week will start during a part of the year that “is notably slower for restaurants,” Payne Johnstone said, adding it will be a better way to feature downtown eateries.

“Participating restaurants will feature a special menu throughout the week of the event that will showcase the skills and talents of the chefs from each venue, creating a delicious dining experience for attendees,” she said. “There are also plans to integrate other businesses into the new event including dessert shops, wine bars and distilleries.”

It’s an approach that’s been done elsewhere, be it as Downtown Dining Week in Memphis or Milwaukee, or as Seattle Restaurant Week.

And what do Bite vendors make of its end?

“We haven’t heard much from disappointed vendors,” she said. “We have discussed the concept of this new event with a few downtown restaurants that have a history of not participating in the Bite, and they are excited.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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