The biggest change to the River Festival’s main food court this year is that last year’s big changes are being unchanged.
The food court, which had been stationed in two experimental spots during the past two years, is “back where God intended it,” joked new festival president Mary Beth Jarvis.
When the event opens on Friday, festivalgoers will find 14 vendors lining Century II Drive, the spot where the food court has been for much of the festival’s existence. The festival’s previous managers tried out different spots for the food court during the past two festivals: west of Century II in 2011 and in the middle of Douglas in 2012.
Part of returning the festival to its roots meant moving the food court back to its longtime home, Jarvis said.
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That’s not the only food change that’s being unchanged.
NuWay, the local crumbly-meat vendor that pulled out of the festival in 2009 after having participated for more than 12 years, has decided to return. And the festival has signed on another local restaurant. Larry Bud’s, which operates sports bars at 2120 N. Woodlawn and 6200 W. 21st St. North, will serve bacon-wrapped chicken tenders, pulled pork sliders and more.
The festival also will see the return of the Cajun Food Fest, a popular Wichita River Festival event that was absent last year. The event was a 26-year tradition that was missing in 2012 because a new layout would have displaced it from its regular spot on Kennedy Plaza, and its organizer, Goodwill Industries, didn’t think that would work. It’ll be back in its original location with the traditional setup from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The festival’s new organizers are making one big change themselves. All of the main food court areas this year will be smoke-free, as will the Cox Kids’ Corner.
The main food court isn’t the only location for dining.
The Kids’ Corner, located in A. Price Woodard Park, also will have a mini-food court specializing in kid-friendly foods such as funnel cakes, pizza, cotton candy, candy apples and shaved ice.
And when the Waterwalk zone is activated during the festival’s final four days, food will be served there, too. A smaller group of vendors will serve Pronto Pups, friend catfish and the like. And several of Wichita’s local food trucks have said they’ll be there, too.
Vendors at the main food court and at the Kid’s Corner food court will accept River Festival tickets only. The $1 tickets can be purchased nearby the food courts. The Waterwalk food court vendors will accept cash or tickets.
Festivalgoers also will again be able to enjoy adult beverages at this year’s event, served by The Bar’s Open. Each night during concerts, there will be two big bars on Kennedy Plaza. There will also be roaming vendors and two bars at the Waterwalk when it opens for business. It will be stocked with beer, wine and specialty cocktails.
The food court is always one of the most anticipated parts of the festival, said Ann Keefer, the new vice president for program development. And this year’s will offer everything people expect, from fried pickles to roasted corn.
“It’s going to be all the festival favorites everyone anticipates having and getting to be sinful with those nine days out of the year,” she said. “We’re taking it up a notch by bringing all these local vendors on board, and we hope to attract more in the future.”