Jun 152010
Authors: Matt Miller

“Monkey balls,” roared a voice that cut through the chatter and music at the Taste of Fort Collins festival Saturday evening. The call came from local restaurant owner Cha Hasadinratana, and cheers from the crowd followed.

“It will taste like monkey balls,” Hasadinratana said of the Thai balls of meat and spices to a customer who inquired about his strange cuisine.

Hasadinratana is the owner of Fort Collins restaurant Thai Pepper. He is one of many restaurateurs who participates in the yearly festival designed to connect them with food lovers and generate support for their businesses.

“It’s good here,” Hasadinratana said. Originally from Thailand, he opened his restaurant 16 years ago.

While he participates in many festivals throughout the state such as the Colorado Beer Fest, he prefers the Taste of Fort Collins, held in the same city where his business is located and his customers live.

For the first time in recent memories, steady rain at this year’s Taste of Fort Collins kept the crowds to a smaller size.

“Whenever you have an outdoor business, rain doesn’t help,” Hasadinratana said.

Just down the street from the calls for monkey balls was the stand of another Fort Collins business fighting through the rain to feed the public.

“We expected our busiest year ever,” said Mike Thomas, who owns Mama Roni’s Pizza with his brother Greg Thomas.

The two CSU alumni bought the 12-year-old pizza joint six years ago and have participated in Taste of Fort Collins for the past five years. Both brothers said this year was the first they saw such terrible event weather.

Mama Roni’s uses the opportunity to make good sales, which the brothers said can be slow during the summer time.

The restaurant, which is located on Spring Creek Lane, opened a second location on Timberline Road in 2008.

For the first time this year, the Thomas brothers hosted a pizza-eating contest for festival-goers.

Contestants battled in the pouring rain to eat a large pizza as fast as they could. The winner, who inhaled it in a little more than six minutes, won free pizza for a year.

“We get to meet people and have them meet us,” Mike Thomas said. “It’s a fun festival atmosphere. We can let people know were independent, and we get to sample the other food too.”

He added that, although the festival would have flowed better without the rain, they still had fun getting out of the kitchen. The restaurant hopes to break even from the below average business and the $595 cost of the booth space.

Crowds weren’t the only things in short supply this year.

Local Fort Collins restaurants were the minority compared to many big franchise restaurants. Mama Roni’s and Thai Pepper were two of the few Fort Collins natives represented.

Out of the 30 restaurants that participated this year, only seven were local.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill and The Texas Roadhouse received awards this year.

“We wish more local restaurants would get involved,” the Mama Roni’s brothers said.

Staff writer Matt Miller can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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