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Dar Ma Lee Serves Karta Thai with Soshanna Truong (11).

Dar Ma Lee Serves Karta Thai with Soshanna Truong (11).

Angela Lopez-Reyes

Angela Lopez-Reyes

Dar Ma Lee Serves Karta Thai with Soshanna Truong (11).

Kira Greenfield, Co-Editor-In-Chief

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Crispy two meat pizza, chicken and cheese tacos, queso blanco with chips and brownie bites with fudge were all flavor-packed samples visitors enjoyed as they listened to live music at the Taste of Columbia Heights Holiday Kick-off held on November 17.

Organized by Recreation Coordinator Liz Bray of the Columbia Heights Park and Recreation Department, the popularity of the event grows each year.

“We wanted to bring the community together to celebrate the holidays and the delicious foods of many different cultures while supporting our local businesses. It was fun to bring people together on a chilly Friday night instead of them just sitting at home on the couch watching TV,” Bray said.

This yearly event, hosted at Murzyn Hall, is funded by the Lions Club, the Columbia Heights Boosters and the Columbia Heights Activity Fund (CHAF). Admission was free. Each food sample cost $2.00, and sample tickets were sold at the door. Restaurants split their earnings with CHAF. It’s not the vendors goal to make a profit; it’s about connecting with the community.

Bray starts planning for the event in early September by sending letters to restaurants in the area. She visits with them multiple times to learn what supplies and paperwork the owners will need. Anoka County issues a one-day license to restaurants for the event with strict regulations regarding food temperature and sanitation.

As residents and friends entered Murzyn Hall, they filed into line to purchase their tickets for food samples. They roamed the room and visited the various booths. Exchanging a ticket for a sample, they could enjoy seating in the middle of the room allowing them a clear view of all the exhibits.

Ms. Sara Hayden, owner of Sara’s Tipsy Pies and a ‘91 Heights graduate, brought mini pumpkin pies and apple bites to the event.

“For me, this event was about coming back home to my roots. It doesn’t matter if I got any sales. I don’t expect anyone to drive all the way to Stillwater to buy my pies. This was about my connections to this community. It has been a joy to see old friends and meet new ones,” Hayden said.

Roman Miernicki, owner of Roman’s Cafe, participated in the event for the first time. He brought two popular items, the breakfast sandwich and specialty pancakes.

“We have seen some of our regulars here, but there have also been many new faces I hope to see in the restaurant. It has been a learning experience. We hope to come back next year with even better samples,” Miernicki said.

Packed with people, Murzyn teemed with tasty local food and entertaining music.

“I have lived in Heights for the past 45 years, and I’ve come to this event every year it’s been held. It’s amazing for our community. I’m always in awe of how many people come,” Donna Ferrand said.

The mayor also made an appearance, showing support for the festival.

“Taste of Columbia Heights is a great night. It’s always fun to see familiar faces. This year, I noticed a lot of new faces too. There were people that have just moved to Heights and some who came back home for it,” Mayor Donna Schmitt said.

Young people participated as well.

“I had a ton of fun serving food at the La Casita booth. I saw lots of friends while I ate chips and queso as well as my favorite, Tasty Pizza’s thin crust pepperoni pizza,” Christina Bloodsaw (10) said.

Alumni take pride in this community gathering.

“This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Heights to see all that we have to offer and to taste some of our culturally diverse food,” Jasmine Burbank, a 2015 graduate and Miss Columbia Heights, said.

Current students offered their help at the festival.

“High school Key Club members and the Heights Royalty have provided amazing volunteers that help restaurants serve food and clean up tables. This year was extremely busy. It is probably the biggest turn out we have ever seen. I wish we had more space, but this way everyone is forced to mingle,” Bray said.

The Taste of Columbia Heights Holiday Kick-off draws residents of Heights, old and new, and invites visitors to socialize, enjoy ethnic foods and celebrate the diverse Heights community.

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