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    Tacos, chihuahuas and tequila draw crowds to Davisburg festival


    Davisburg — The food was not all anyone wanted to taco-’bout at the second annual Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park.

    It’s the second year for the festival after missing 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. Event creators decided to move the festival from Lake Orion’s Canterbury Village to the more spacious park this year after seeing how much interest there was in an event centered on the iconic Mexican handheld.

    “We saw that this taco craze has really garnered a lot of steam in Metro Detroit,” said Keith Aldridge, owner of CV Events, which is part of Canterbury Village.

    The weekend-long event brought dozens of food trucks, some serving tacos and others offering American fare, to the park’s event area. If up for a challenge, attendees could partake in taco and hot pepper eating contests.

    Caryn Czebieniak of Roseville competes with Chichi during the Cutest Chihuahua Contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Mich. on Aug. 15, 2021. (Nic Antaya, Special to The Detroit News)

    Food trucks serving Mexican food saw the longest lines Sunday as visitors sought out the one dish they came for: tacos. Stefania Sosa and Mauricio Garcia of Auburn Hills waited in the lines, eager to try every taco at the festival.

    “This is something different, I’ve never heard of a taco fest,” Mauricio said. “So I wanted to see what it was about, and of course this is a famous food.”

    Organizing the food trucks was one of the main challenges when organizing the festival this year, Aldridge said. He found the trucks to be struggling was staffing shortages, much like other businesses in the state and beyond as the U.S. experiences a labor shortage.

    Beverly Azar, left, of Clinton Township, Eric Turney of Hartland and Craig Olzak of Canton raise their hands before eating pablano peppers during the hot pepper eating contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Mich. on Aug. 15, 2021.

    For beverages, tents throughout the fairgrounds sold water, sodas and freshly-squeezed lemonade for attendees. Springfield Oaks’ “Miracle of Life” barn was converted to a bar serving margaritas and other themed alcoholic beverages.

    A DJ booth rotated between themed music and pop hits, filling the outdoor space as many waited in lines for specific food trucks. On occasion, a mariachi band would stroll through the fairgrounds.

    Erick Del Real of Royal Oak reacts to the heat during the hot pepper eating contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Michigan, on Aug. 15, 2021. The contest consisted of five rounds: pablano, jalapeño, Hungarian hot wax, habanero and ghost pepper.

    The crowds also meant strong sales for the businesses that sent up shop on the fairgrounds.

    “This is our best show we’ve ever done,” said Lisa Hanel of Diamond Drive Designs, which sells decorated tumblers and lanterns. The event also felt fuller than many of the events she has sold products at over the last 5 years. “Because you get more people, you’re going to get more sales.”

    Mike Jernukian of Shelby Township celebrates after winning the hot pepper eating contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Mich. on Aug. 15, 2021.

    Demand has been so high that it sent some sellers in search of more products. Owner LeeAnn Ramirez of LeeAnn’s Homemade Creations went to Walmart to get more items she could turn into smoke chains to sell at her tent.

    “Everyone’s been really nice and we’ve done really well,” said Ramirez, who started her home shop during the pandemic. “We’ve had a great time being here.

    “Mollock” bites the knuckles of “El Ridiculoso” during the Lucha Libre wrestling show by the Pro Wrestling All-Stars of Detroit at the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Michigan, on Aug. 15, 2021.

    Beyond shopping, the festival had events to match the taco theme. A wrestling arena was surrounded by chairs for attendees to watch “Lucha Libre,” a phrase used in Mexico to describe professional or freestyle wrestling.

    Next to the arena was a row of bounce houses for children. The festival also had a mechanical bull, bean-bag tosses and monster truck rides.

    John Brown, left, Petra Brown and Denise McLean, all of White Lake, cheer during the Cutest Chihuahua Contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Michigan, on Aug. 15, 2021.

    On the other side of the fairgrounds, a “cutest” chihuahua content took place under a large Pavillion. Kelli Baetiong of Sterling Heights brought 5-month-old Nacho, with a dog-sized sombrero attached to his collar, to compete.

    “I saw tequila and tacos, and you know what goes with that? Chihuahua,” Baetiong said. “I was just planning on bringing him, then we saw they had a contest and I was like, ‘Get out of here!'”

    Mike Roscoe of Waterford competes with George, 6, during the Cutest Chihuahua Contest of the Michigan Taco Fest at Springfield Oaks County Park in Davisburg, Mich. on Aug. 15, 2021. (Nic Antaya, Special to The Detroit News)

    In the back of the pavilion, Jeanette Bryan and Megan Evans snacked on food truck dishes while the competition was being set up. The mother-daughter pair said they had been going to the fairgrounds for years.

    The theme of the festival was also a plus. “Who doesn’t love Mexican food?” she said. “I could eat Mexican food every day.”

    Evans sat with her newborn daughter, who was ringing in her first of what Bryan and Evans expect to be many trips to the park’s fairgrounds as a family.

    “Old School Ric Caurdiea” carries “Daniel Wolf” during the Lucha Libre wrestling show at the Michigan Taco Fest.

    That meant good news for Aldridge, who aimed to differentiate the festival from events in nearby Ferndale or Royal Oak with an emphasis on family.

    “We want people to have a great family experience and enjoy the wonderful park we have here in Oakland County,” Aldridge said. “The backbone of America is the family dynamics.”

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