For well over a decade, the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) sponsored the Taste of Downtown series, in which the public could sample dishes from Downtown eateries while taking in the ambience of a variety of neighborhoods. With the arrival of COVID-19, DLBA transitioned the event to a virtual platform.

After successful events in May and June, the August TOD event had a new twist: a “Staycation” theme. MC’ed by the charismatic drag queen Jewels, the event offered an expanded roster of participants. In addition to culinary offerings such as wine tastings and a Mediterranean cooking demonstration, online guests were treated to staycation shopping tips, a fashion show, live music, and even a teeth-whitening lesson.

“The Virtual Taste of Downtown helps to remind the community, ‘Hey! We’re still still here, and here’s what we can offer you,'” said DLBA Virtual Event Coordinator Justine Nevarez, whose first time planning a Virtual TOD was in August. “It’s a great way to continue to bring these businesses together and to bring their offerings to the consumer.”

Talmadge Lowe, owner of Hi-Lo Liquor Market at 707 East Ocean Boulevard, has now participated in two Virtual Taste events. “These events have helped the community get to know us,” said Lowe. “That’s the most important thing for a new business. We have seen an immediate response on our website with an increase in delivery orders after we participated.”

Interspersed with the business presentations during the Virtual TOD Staycation Edition was the charming Master of Ceremonies work of Jewels, a beloved Long Beach personality and passionate advocate. Jewels has received several recognition from City officials, including a Key to the City from Mayor Robert Garcia. “I’m so proud to be a cheerleader for our great city,” she said. “So many wonderful Long Beach folks have reached out with kind words of support after the event. It was an honor to host it.”

Nevarez plans each Virtual TOD event by first coming up with a theme, then inviting a few businesses who fit that theme perfectly. A participant interest form is sent out to all Downtown businesses to give everyone a chance to be featured. For the Backyard BBQ Edition of the Virtual Taste of Downtown, scheduled for September 18, Nevarez invited some Downtown restaurants who serve backyard grill-friendly fare. After getting those anchor businesses in place, Nevarez sent an email invite to all other Downtown businesses.

On September 18, be sure to tune in on Facebook to the Backyard BBQ Edition of the Virtual Taste of Downtown from 5-9 PM. Keep an eye on DLBA’s social media accounts for special promotions from participating businesses in the days leading up to the event: Instagram and Twitter (@DLBA), Facebook (@downtownlongbeach). Feel free to comment on the live videos as they air, and consider supporting participating businesses with takeout and online orders.