After Wilkes-Barre officials canceled the Cherry Blossom Festival two years in a row due to COVID-19 concerns, Tony Thomas Jr. decided to organize a smaller version of the popular festival.
The family-friendly Cherry Blossom Food Fest will be held April 30, May 1 and May 2 in the Skateaway parking lot off Blackman Street in Wilkes-Barre Twp. from 11 a.m. until dusk each day.
Thomas said the festival will benefit local food trucks and Skateaway, which were hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown.
He will sell chicken, fries and fresh-squeezed lemonade at his concession stand. The festival also will feature a variety of other food trucks, including Notis the Gyro King, Yogi’s Potato Pancakes, Pete Webby’s Funnel Cakes, Geraldo’s Pizza, Joe’s Homemade Pierogies from Hazleton, Udder Delights Ice Cream from Shickshinny, Sammy’s Caribbean Grill food truck and Sue Huey specialty drinks and snacks.
There also will be rides and games by Huey’s and Uncle Floyd’s. COVID-19 safety precautions will be taken, Thomas said.
Thomas said Emil (Butch) Feist of Skateaway approached him about holding a fundraiser for Skateaway since it was negatively affected by the shutdown. The food trucks will pay rent to hold the festival in Skateaway’s parking lot and a portion of the funds raised will benefit the local business, he said.
The festival also will benefit local food vendors who have been negatively impacted since festivals and fairs were canceled, he said.
“It was a very rough year for a lot of vendors,” Thomas said. “Financially, everybody took a hit.”
Food vendors that took a hit over the last year have included Notis Vavlas, who operates Notis the Gyro King food truck in the former Kmart’s parking lot on Route 309 in Wilkes-Barre Twp. and who relies on selling food at festivals for his income.
“This is my main income,” said Vavlas, who has been making gyros and other Greek food that is popular at festivals for 30 years in addition to operating his food truck on Route 309. “It’s been very hard because you depend on those customers at the festivals.”
Vavlas said he thinks the upcoming Cherry Blossom Food Fest will be a “beautiful” event that will help his business and bring people out again.
“I miss seeing happy faces,” he said.
Mike Jagodzinski of Yogi’s Potato Pancakes said he also is happy that the upcoming festival will bring “everybody out of the house again.”
Like other vendors, Jagodzinski lost business since fairs and festivals were canceled but he has been drawing crowds since he set up his food stand outside the big cow on Route 309 in Wilkes-Barre Twp. selling potato pancakes, pierogies, noodles and cabbage and crab bisque on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during Lent.
While Yogi’s Potato Pancakes has lost business over the last year, Jagodzinski said he is grateful for the customers who have been lining up on Route 309 during Lent.
He also looks forward to more festivals that will go on in the future, including the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival which announced on Facebook that it will be held this year on June 11 and 12.