Santa Fe wins 'Best for Food'by jmaloni
New Mexico town tops Lewiston in "Best of the Road" competition
by Joshua Maloni
Santa Fe was named "Best for Food" in the 2012 Rand McNally/USA Today "Best of the Road" competition. The New Mexico town topped five other destinations - including Lewiston - to take the title. The official announcement was made Tuesday afternoon as part of the Destination Marketing Association International annual convention in Seattle. It was streamed live on the Internet.
At The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q. on Center Street, Lewiston volunteers huddled around an iPad and assorted iPhones to watch glimpses of the "Best of the Road" presentation. When the announcement was made, they expressed disappointment, but took solace in their efforts.
"It wasn't for lack of trying," said volunteer Tim Henderson.
While Lewiston fell short of its overall goal of winning, it didn't exit the contest empty-handed. It won the online voting portion of the competition in a landslide. The village's restaurants gained national attention through the blogging and videos of "Best for Food" judges "The Road Bros" (Mike Shubic and Brian Cox), and Lewiston is expected to be included July 25 on the Travel Channel's "Best of the Road" one-hour special.
"We won already," said volunteer Jude Caserta. "We're going to be on the Travel Channel. Everybody knows about us. The word is out."
Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. President John Percy was in Seattle for the "Best of the Road" announcement. He phoned volunteer coordinator Lee Simonson with the verdict as it was presented. Simonson, in turn, thanked the residents who took time to welcome "The Road Bros" and show Lewiston off to the world.
"On behalf of the volunteers, we're so grateful to have this kind of opportunity," he said. "Lewiston did get in the top 6 (nationally, out of 700 entrants); we did win in the online voting - there's nothing that can take that away from us. We just think that the whole exercise brought out the best in this community."
Indeed, a giant banner flew over Center Street welcoming Shubic and Cox; volunteers threw both judges a large-scale party at The Silo Restaurant on the first day of their stay, and a second celebration at Water Street Landing on night two; children asked "The Road Bros" for autographs, and parents posed for pictures.
"We had different constituencies working together - people who have never met each other working together," Simonson said. "You combine that with the restaurants and with what the local government did, and the corporate sponsors we were able to get, (and) it just gelled into a tremendous community effort that probably could be used as a model in the future for other campaigns that we conduct."
It's for that reason the volunteers left The Brickyard with their heads held high.
"I think everybody is walking away from this with a great feeling," Simonson said. "We knew that the competition was tough. Santa Fe, New Mexico, is considerably larger than Lewiston. And, there's no doubt, Santa Fe probably has some of the best food in the world - let alone the country. But, for the size town we are, and what we have to offer, I think we did a great job."
Michelle Blackley, communications manager at the NTCC, said the entire region benefitted from Lewiston's culinary quest.
"It was great for the county, the attention that it brought to the area," she said. "The food that Lewiston has to offer - and the whole ambiance of the town - it proved that it's a great place to visit. It's a great place to come and enjoy what we have to offer."
Caserta, who escorted "The Road Bros" around Lewiston with volunteers Leandra Collesano and Lisa Ohanessian, said she'll never forget the experience.
"It was like being Santa Claus at every stop that we made," she said. "It was amazing. I have never had such a powerful reaction from strangers as I did that day."
"It was really amazing how everyone came together," Caserta said. "We really did just put this together in a few days. That's not an exaggeration. We had the announcement early on a Saturday morning and, by Wednesday afternoon, Tim Henderson, and Lee and I were meeting with 'The Road Bros' and the folks from the Travel Channel. So, we put that together in five days, and we probably changed that itinerary easily - conservatively - 20 times, to include as many things and as many options as we could.
"I just think that people came together like nothing I've ever seen. It was one of the best experiences of my life."
Simonson said, "Every community that was visited would tell you the same thing: This whole 'Best of the Road' exercise brought out the best in each town."
USA Today writer Laura Bly said Shubic and Cox were impressed with Santa Fe's blend of Native American, Hispanic and European cultures, and could see "the vibrancy of the city" in the dishes they were served.
The Travel Channel's "Best of the Road" highlight show airs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25.
For more information, visit www.bestoftheroad.com.
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