Aug 22, 2022
BATAVIA — There was a little taste of Italy in Batavia on Saturday.
People swarmed Jackson and Center streets for the city’s first Italian Festival, eating and tasting Italian staples such as pizza, meatballs, Arancini, gelato, ricotta cookies, cannoli, stuffed shells, Italian wedding soup, sausage, pizzelle, and more. There were games for the kids and bands which played later in the afternoon.
Melissa Dilcher of Byron, who was eating some of Main Street Pizza’s meatballs, said she enjoyed the food vendors and tried out different kinds of sauce.
“I’m surprised at the range of Italian food here,” she said.
Sarah Harris from Rochester was also surprised. While she doesn’t have any Italian heritage, she said she loves Italian food — especially pizza and lasagna. She had gotten some pizza and cannoli, and tried Italian ricotta cookies for the first time.
“Everything smells really good,” she said.
The afternoon festival marked the first time Batavia had hosted an Italian Festival. The event was the brainchild of Shannon Maute, executive director of the Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District.
“Both my husband and I are half-Italian, half-German,” she said. “When I worked at Eli Fish, the first thing I approached the owners about was we have to do an Oktoberfest.”
The Oktoberfest has grown every year, and when Maute took over the executive director’s job at BID, she said Eli Fish had such a great event that she would create a new event for the city.
“All my friends are Italian, I’m Italian, I said I wanted to do an Italian Fest,” Maute said. “It started growing. I got a committee, and committee members are fantastic coming up with all these ideas.”
The first business Maute approached was Main Street Pizza. She said when you think of Italian food in Batavia, of course you think of Roman’s, but she goes to get meatballs from Main Street Pizza at least once a week. So Maute approached Main Street Pizza to ask if they were interested and if they would do their meatballs and Arancini, or Italian rice balls that are stuffed, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. Then she went to Roman’s, which was in for the festival. Maute went to other local businesses, including Batavia’s Original, Eli Fish, and Gilliana’s Diner; and non-profits.
The community has absolutely loved the Italian Festival, Maute said, and said they can’t believe it has taken so long for one to be in Batavia.
Ryan Duffy, director for the Holland Land Office Museum, said Batavia was once divided along ethnic neighborhoods with Italians settling on the south side, which made the south side of Batavia a strong Italian community.
“Those families once they came here opened up a lot of early businesses and a lot of those are still in place today,” he said, “and actually grew to become very significant pillars of the community,” he said.
Italian foods are a big staple in the community, Duffy said, and the Italian part of Batavia has always been prominent.