FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – What started six years ago as a fundraiser has become one of the most highly anticipated foodie events of the fall in Flagler County. Hosting the annual ‘Taste of the FUN Coast’ for guests from Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties serves a dual purpose according to Flagler Broadcasting President and General Manager David Ayres.
One of the many feel good events produced by the region’s six radio stations, the Taste of the FUN Coast offers guests a chance to sip and sample from the ‘Fun Coast’ restaurant scene and raises awareness for the beloved Sea Turtle Hospital at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory.
“It’s just grown every year. This is our biggest one ever,” said Ayres. “We’ll really be able to help out the sea turtle hospital and the so many great things they do out there. We’re just really proud to be a community partner with them, but we couldn’t do it without the support of everybody – the sponsors, the really great restaurants here.”
On The Calendar
Invited by her friend Debbie Nicoletti, Barbara Prairie chatted excitedly in between samples of grilled salmon topped with lobster from Beach Front Grille. Enjoying the oceanfront view at the Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa the pair gushed over their favorite dishes, clearly enjoying the variety.
“I love this kind of thing,” said Prairie.
“This event is absolutely great. The food, the people, it’s awesome,” said Nicoletti, a fan of the Looper’s Par & Grill’s couscous arugula salad and shrimp dish, and the mojito from Break-Awayz.
They were even happier knowing the event helped support the sea turtle hospital.
“If it benefits any animal, I’m there,” added Nicoletti.
Missing the event for the past two years while celebrating her daughter’s birthday, Elizabeth Diane Oros planned her return trip to ensure she could attend this year’s soiree.
“I am here for the atmosphere, the delicious food and the delicious drinks, and the people” said Oros. “We planned it so I could make it this time.”
Priceless Business Exposure
If there’s one thing everybody does, it’s eat. While different demographics enjoy different palates, the Taste of the FUN Coast ensures there is something for everybody. Bringing together a mix of guests, it’s a chance for business owners to meet new clients or showcase signature dishes.
As one of the event’s major sponsors, TAG Ventures Real Estate Broker/owner and philanthropist Kathy Austrino appreciated the opportunity to connect with new faces and rekindle relationships as her team greeted guests on their way in.
“It’s awesome being out, interacting with the community and meeting all kinds of people. And supporting the businesses here, the local businesses. This particular event is a great opportunity to get a little taste of each different flavor,” said Austrino.
For Angie Norman and Crystal Akialis the afternoon’s event was a chance to pay homage to a well-known community member and legendary foodie. By day Bill Willis was a telecommunications expert, but on the side, his passion for cooking led to the creation of the catering business Chef Bill’s Catering.
Passing away in August 2023, on Tuesday night his family honored him with, unveiling their new family logo, Chef Bill’s Legacy Catering, wearing their shirts proudly as they served hundreds of guests.
“I did catering with my dad for over 30 years. He recently passed and we renamed it to Chef Bill’s Legacy Catering in his honor and to carry on his legacy,” said Norman.
“It’s amazing. I know a lot of these people already from working with them over the last 30 years and for us to still be in business, they’re very happy and proud we are carrying on the legacy and they can still have Bill’s food even though he’s not here.”
Son-in-law Mike Akialis and friend Kirk Keller reminisced on his impact and his legacy.
“Sadly, on August 1st he passed away with cancer. The daughters have taken over the business and staying busy,” said Akialis. “For them, I know it’s an honor, there’s no doubt about it. For me too.”
Spotlighting established and emerging eateries across the region, Foodie Groupies CEO Karen Dion was pleased to see the eclectic variety of restaurants featured.
“Events like this bring awareness to our small businesses and gives everybody a chance to sample their food, so they know the restaurants in our community, and they can support our local businesses,” shared Dion.
Helping organize the event, Heather Thompson said the charitable component holds a special place in her heart.
“It’s such an honor to be a part of it, to help support the Whitney Lab’s Sea Turtle Hospital. To see everybody, it’s just great,” she said. “Supporting the sea turtle hospital, everybody wants to go above and beyond.”
The sentiment was appreciated by Catherine Eastman, Sea Turtle Program Manager for the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory.
“This event, the Taste of the FUN Coast, which this is our sixth year, and it’s awesome. This fundraiser, it brings in a lot of money for us and we’re on a shoestring budget. We’re a lean, mean team and I have to tell you that the community support from this event is incredible.”