The Graham County Chamber of Commerce has announced the 2020 Salsa Festival has been cancelled, but there will be a Salsa Challenge.
Traditionally, Safford’s Main Street is filled with bouncy castles, food and trinket vendors, as well as a car show during the annual September event. The Safford Lions Club sets up a large tent, fills it with restaurateurs and amateur salsa makers who battle to see who makes the best salsa. The club sells bags of chips to the public so they can sample each type of salsa and contribute to scholarships.
With the pandemic and the need to socially distance, organizers decided it would be best to cancel this year’s event.
Graham County Chamber of Commerce Director Vance Bryce said residents are still invited to visit all 14 Salsa Fest restaurants to vote on the best salsa.
After visiting all restaurants, participants can visit the chamber and receive a free T-shirt that says: “I ate my way through COVID-19.”
“There will be multiple ways to do the salsa challenge,” Bryce said. “You can text us your receipt, email. If you don’t like using a smartphone, we will work with you.”
The Salsa Festival, created in 2006, is actually one stop on the SalsaTrail, an auto-tour that winds through over 700 miles in the southwestern United States. The Gila Valley is just one of six distinct salsa regions.
Safford resident Deanna Best has won 11 Salsa Festival amateur salsa competition awards. Last year, she won the People’s Choice and Judges Choice 1st place. Her salsa group name is “D-Best Salsa.”
“We’re kind of just sad, we’re not going to be able to compete this year. We look forward to it every year,” said Best.
After entering her salsa into the festival for seven years, Best said she received so much support for her cooking she has decided to take her salsa a step further and turn it into a business.
She completed the Eastern Arizona College Dream Builder Small Business program and graduated on Monday. Now she is working toward purchasing a food truck, but she said because of COVID-19, financing has been an issue.
“I was thinking by this year we would be competing professionally,” Best said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Looking on the bright side, Deanna said she gets to keep her title as People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice for one more year.