Annual Bowers Chile Pepper Festival celebrates with a variety of vendors
This year’s Chile Pepper Festival celebrated its 24th anniversary by welcoming 15 new vendors. The festival was held Sept. 6 and 7 at Bill DeLong Memorial Park.
In addition to hot sauce and a variety of foods, festival attractions included a jalapeño eating contest and salsa contest, as well as live music. But for the locals and vendors, Bowers’ food festival serves as more than entertainment, instead they see it as a chance for the community to come together.
For the past four years, Scott Nuhfer attended the festival working for Torchbearer Sauces. He feels the atmosphere is what makes the event unique.
“It’s a great show, a great atmosphere,” Nuhfer said. “A lot of these shows, you end up being in convention centers all stuffy, indoors. Tons of money out of pocket for booth space, [but] the booth spaces here are really reasonable and a lot of it goes to help the local farm and the community. And I mean, the community is a great community.”
From a vendor’s perspective, Nuhfer finds the festivalgoers are what drives more businesses in.
“The people that come to this festival are some of the best,” Nuhfer said. “Even when it’s pouring down rain, I’ve been here working this stand in water up to my ankles and there’s still people shopping. The people around here don’t care, they come out, they love this festival, they love the stuff that everybody’s selling.”
Lisa Suppan, of Catasauqua, visits the festival every year and carries the optimistic mindset Nuhfer sees in each attendee.
“There’s so many different vendors here from all over the place. It’s not just local things, so you can really find different things – anything spicy [like] candy, hot sauces, salsas, peanut butter, cookies – it’s just great.”
Spices and sauces aren’t the only things that draw Suppan to the event. She also continues to take part in the jalapeño eating contest after winning in 2010. Suppan finds it fun to participate and she enjoys her “15 minutes of fame” when the announcers refer to her as a “former champion.”
While the number of contestants was lower this year, spirits were still high. Suppan was joined by two brothers and a father competing – Anthony, Brad and Dawn Congilio – in addition to six others. Two rounds were held with five people participating in each.
Former second and third place winner Andrew Maggio took first place in this year’s competition. After taking off from work and taking first place, Maggio says he’s now “retired” from his jalapeño eating escapades.
“We come every year,” Maggio said. “I bought a lot of hot sauce this year. I took off work to come, so this is a big deal for us.”
Despite climbing the ranks the past two years, Maggio claims his win wasn’t expected, but he felt relieved nonetheless.
“I was really hoping, I wasn’t necessarily expecting [to win] because every year I’m like ‘oh man, I had a lot of peppers’ and everyone’s like ‘wow you did really well’ and then somebody ate 50 more grams than I did. It was nice to be the one who ate the extra 50 grams this year.”
Following Maggio was second place winner Steve Tabelkalis, who came in third place last year.
Local Ashley Donchess also took part in the jalapeño eating contest after a contestant failed to show. Donchess plans to compete again next year.
However, the eating contest isn’t the only thing that she looks forward to next year. Donchess hopes to see more people in attendance in the future after noticing the event’s positive impact on the town.
“On Thursday night when we walk around the park doing our normal walks, we see all the vendor tags,” Donchess said. “There was a lot of new vendors. I was a little apprehensive about it. Seeing it now, at least it’s something that we can look forward to every year, it gets kind of boring when there’s only 400 people [in town].”
To Donchess, the unusual sauces and foods aren’t the only things notable to the festival. She feels that the effort the vendors put forth help set it apart from other events in the town.
“The bunch of random things [are unique to the festival],” Donchess said. “But everything [here] is bringing a community together; it’s pretty cool. Because, I’m honest, this town [is] very dead. There’s nothing ever that really brings anybody here, so to see this many people here, it’s a refreshing thing to see.”