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Asian Cultural Festival Hopes to Move Event to Division Street in Somerville

SOMERVILLE – The owner of a popular Filipino restaurant and the Somerset County Asian American Heritage Festival committee hope to host the 15th annual Somerset County American Heritage Festival on Division Street in May or June.

“This could be a really good event for Somerville,” said Tyrone Conshue, owner of Pinoy, a Filipino restaurant at 18 Division St.

Conshue and Kenneth Lee, president of the festival committee, spoke briefly about their plans with the Downtown Somerville Alliance executive committee.

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In previous years, the festival has been held at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Davidson Avenue in Somerset; Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg; Bridgewater-Raritan High School and Franklin Township High School, according to Lee.

“We have moved around to different locations over the years,” Lee said. “We’d like to try it out this year in Somerville, and if everything works out, I don’t see any reason for us not to continue to come back each year,” he added.

The only concern is inclement weather the day of the festival, Lee said.

The festival committee will have to select a date that does not conflict with any other events in the borough; file plans with borough officials, apply for a variety of permits, arrange for police security and secure permission before it can begin to publicize the event.

The festival is a celebration of Asian culture and traditions, featuring live performances, cultural exhibits and activities and ethnic foods. In past years there have been as many as 12-15 different groups performing, according to Lee.

Pinoy has been one of the food vendors the past several years; it’s how Conshue and Lee became acquainted.

Earlier this year, Conshue invited Lee and members of the festival committee to dine at his restaurant and afterwards, took them on a walking tour of the Division Street pedestrian plaza and downtown Main Street.

The visitors were impressed by the number and variety of Asian restaurants.

There are at least one dozen Asian restaurants in Somerville – including three on Division Street - serving a variety of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, Indian and Korean food.

Lee hopes to involve each of the restaurants in the festival.

“One of the things we do each year is to bring in different types of Asian food to the event,” Lee said.

Festival organizers have been limited in previous years because they did not have access to full-size kitchens; that limited what could be served.

“We wouldn’t have that problem in Somerville,” he added. “The restaurants are already there and that could help us with the event.”

Lee envisions each of the restaurants serving samples to attract customers later that day or to come back to Somerville at a later date.

Most of the restaurants have at least a four-star rating; Pinoy, rated 4.5 stars, has transformed itself from a grocery and simple Styrofoam plate, plastic utensils take-out eatery to a more sophisticated sit-down restaurant with linen napkins and table service since opening in 2009, according to Conshue.

“I used to compare myself to McDonald’s, Conshue said. “Not anymore.”

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