By WARREN DILLAWAY - firstname.lastname@example.org
The fifth year of the Wine and Walleye Festival added a few twists including an attempt to break the Guiness Book of World Records for the amount of fish dinners served in an eight hour period.
The record attempt fell short by more than 4,000 dinners, but not before 7,318 were devoured by hungry people that jammed Bridge Street on Saturday.
Jessica Forsythe, president of the Ashtabula County Chamber of Commerce, came up with the idea to help increase the name recognition of the event celebrating its fifth birthday.
“We were really trying to promote the event,” she said.
A special “adjudicator” for the Guiness Book of World Records was brought to Ashtabula to verify the world record attempt.
“I’m counting the tickets as they come in and then I check the cash register receipts and they have to match,” said adjudicator Michael Empric who travels constantly.
“I travel at least once a week in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, Central America and the Caribbean,” Empric said.
“Its fascinating. I get to go places I never would get to go and see incredible things,” Empric said. He said he wrote to the world record keeping company urging them to hire him and they did.
Ashtabula City Manager James Timonere, who helped start the event when he was president of the Chamber of Commerce, said it has been fun to watch the event evolve every year.
“You need a festival to adapt... everybody has to put their own stamp on it,” he said.
Timonere said the event has grown and means a lot to surrounding communities as well as the city.
Forsythe said the wine tasting area has been moved so participants have a better view of the water in a parking lot near the Ashtabula Lift Bridge.
Bands performed as visitors tried a variety of wines from numerous area wineries.
Forsythe said they also moved merchants into the middle of Bridge Street and shut down the road for the weekend allowing for a better flow for people seeking to shop at the vendors.
Janet Knox, a 1973 graduate of Ashtabula High School, said three of her classmates talked at their 40th reunion and made plans to attend the festival.
“We’ve got to taste a lot of wines... (We’re sharing) great memories and making more,” she said.
John Raines brought his family all the way from Erie to experience the Wine and Walleye Festival. “I think it is something we will be back for next year,” he said.
The fish were supplied by American Family Concessions out of Wooster, said Darlene Casto of Orrville, who was selling tickets for the fish dinners.
All the fish came from Lake Erie. The walleye are commercially fished by Canadian fishermen and sold to a company in Port Clinton, she said.
The festival continues today along historic Bridge Street with music, fish and wine tasting.