Authored by: Kelly Stuart Williams

What began as the Carrollwood Area Business Association’s (CABA) annual “Business Expo” in the 1980’s has become an annual event attracting nearly 4000 attendees, 100 vendors, and 30 restaurants.  The event is now CABA Presents Taste of Carrollwood (TOC), and this year it was held at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2019 from 12pm- 4pm.

Among the many “tastings” and events in Tampa Bay, TOC remains one of the only free events that offers free food and free parking at a major Tampa venue in a family-friendly atmosphere.  When asked how the Association was able to afford to present a free event of this scale, CABA President Barbara Sekely explained the integral role that CABA member restaurants, sponsors, vendors, and volunteers play in planning and executing the event.

“Since 1986, CABA was chartered as a volunteer-run, non-profit that exists to serve its nearly 400 businesses that are members,” said Sekely.  “As such, events like the Taste of Carrollwood give our CABA members an opportunity to “meet the community,” and it is the generosity of our sponsors and vendors who make it possible for us to keep TOC a free event to the public.”

She added, “Raymond James provided a fantastic venue that most attendees had never fully experienced, and our CABA member restaurants stepped up to provide delicious food samples to nearly 4000 attendees:  many who will return to their restaurants in Carrollwood.  We are very appreciative to the volunteers who have been planning the event since 2018, and we thank all the attendees who joined us.” 

For the thousands who attended on March 31, 2019, the weather was ideal for enjoying all that Raymond James had to offer:  under cover, out on the field, and up in the Pirate Ship.  While the East Concourse featured 100 vendors to include Carrollwood-based restaurants, businesses, fitness centers, AdventHealth-Carrollwood, and luxury cars from Ed Morse Cadillac, the field was open for all to enjoy.

In the background, the Raymond James Jumbotron was displaying brightly colored vendor logos and videos in view of hundreds who gathered on the football field to attempt to kick a field goal. From atop the Raymond James Pirate Ship, attendees had a bird’s eye view of attendees passing the football and experiencing the field where the Tampa Bay Bucs and USF Bulls play.

Ordinarily reserved only for private parties, hundreds of attendees climbed aboard the Raymond James Pirate Ship to experience the fun and the view, while the sounds of five Beasley Radio stations could be heard from down below.  Another unique opportunity, that many enjoyed, was the East Stadium Club Bar 76, a new luxury sports bar at Raymond James Stadium exclusive to Club Level/Season Ticket Holders and private parties but open to the public at CABA Presents Taste of Carrollwood.

According to the CABA Board Director of Special Events, Danelle Castillo, her Committee and the CABA Board chose Raymond James because of the many unique opportunities that turned CABA’s former “business expo” into a festival atmosphere that provided something for everyone.

“Initially, we were excited knowing that we could accommodate more attendees while keeping all of our vendors under cover.  As we learned more about the exclusive opportunities like the Pirate Ship, the Field Goal Kick, and Bar 76, we realized that this was what we had hoped for:  a celebration of Carrollwood that provided free food and family fun for the entire community,” said Castillo.

The event was kicked off by a student from one of the CABA members, Bach to Rock, who provided Jade Ethier to sing the National Anthem that set the tone for an afternoon of musical entertainment:  first, from the USF Herd of Thunder Marching Band followed by four hours of popular music from DJ Flash, Q-105 whose musical stylings were backed up by five Beasley Media Radio Stations: WHFS-FM 98.7, WLLD-FM 94.1, WQYK-FM 99.5, WRBQ-FM 104.7 and WYUU-FM 92.5.

Ed Morse Cadillac, a 15-year CABA member, brought new model Cadillacs and Alfa Romeos that were available for “test drives” for those attendees lucky enough to win the raffle.  For jewelry lovers, a diamond ring from International Diamond Center was awarded to a lucky winner in another Ed Morse drawing.  Throughout the venue, hundreds of televisions prominently displayed the logos of all vendors.

In-crowd entertainment was provided by a “fleet” of Star Wars characters, a balloon artist, a face painter, and the Hamburglar from Casper’s Company McDonalds. Nearly all of the vendors provided interactive games and contests at their booths, and AdventHealth Carrollwood, the event’s MVP Sponsor, provided a jumbo game of “Operation” for attendees who wanted to pretend to perform surgery on-site.

Adults who completed a scavenger hunt sheet were eligible to win a 50” flat screen television and vote for the “Best of” Taste of Carrollwood:  a first-ever for the annual event.  The winners included Shells-Carrollwood as “Best of” main dish; AdventHealth-Carrollwood won “Best of” Vendor Booth; and “Best of” Giveaway; the “Best of” dessert was awarded to a new Carrollwood dessert shop, “Tiny Bites.”

 Another first for the CABA Presents Taste of Carrollwood was the selection of a CABA member charity designated to be included in all of the event’s publicity and to receive a portion of the proceeds from a 50-50 raffle. Bay Area Greyhound Adoptions was selected by CABA’s Special Events Committee from among its 20+ CABA member non-profits. While petting two beautiful greyhounds, attendees learned more about the significant need for greyhound adoptions in the Tampa Bay area.

Planning has already begun for CABA Presents Taste of Carrollwood 2020, and while the venue has not yet been announced; CABA will continue to be one of the only organizations to bring FREE FOOD and FAMILY FUN with a sampling of the “Best of” what Carrollwood has to offer to Greater Tampa Bay.