A Rite of Passage in Visalia – The Waiters Race Joins the 21 Club

The Visalia Waiters Race is a quarter mile in length. Photo by: Ron Holman
The Visalia Waiters Race is a quarter mile in length. Photo by: Ron Holman

Turning 21, in its broadest sense, is a cultural rite of passage. Remembering this special day brings up laughter, a gathering of family and friends, or the public display of enjoying an “adult beverage” – or maybe all three.

The Visalia Waiters Race, a fun and whimsical sporting event, has brought our community together for the past 21 years. Everyone is invited to share in the landmark celebration of this annual event joining the “21 Club” on September 25 in Downtown Visalia.

Introduced to Visalia by John Vartanian, owner of The Vintage Press Restaurant, it is not known what the Waiters Race’s exact roots are, but its origins are from the culture of France. Inspired by this famous foot race in Paris, and following participation in a waiters race held at the then-popular West Hollywood restaurant Ma Maison, Vartanian brought the concept to the City of Visalia to honor our own local professionals who work in the food service and hospitality industry, including fine and casual dining servers.

Reflecting upon previous races throughout the last 21 years and how they shaped this annual event, Vartanian said the support of the community has been “tremendous,” making it a tradition that everyone looks forward to each year.

All of this leads us to Visalia’s race, which is scheduled on Thursday, September 25, with the parade of racers beginning promptly at 5:15pm. The designated course, a quarter mile in length, is located in Downtown Visalia on Main Street. It will begin at the corner of Garden and Main Streets, with contestants running 220 yards to Main and Court Street, taking a U-turn and racing the 220 yards back to the finish line. The race is comprised of male and female divisions in full-service and quick-service categories.

With $7,000 of prize money up for grabs, there is much excitement when the running starts. Over the past eight years, the Waiters Race committee has given away $56,000. There have been several repeat winners throughout the years, taking home thousands of dollars. But those are just a lucky few. Each year, 128 veterans and first-time racers make their way down Main Street in Visalia to make their claim of “Best Server in the Valley.”

“This global event fits wonderfully in our own local community,” said Vartanian. “We all look forward to saluting the professionals of the San Joaquin Valley who work in the food service industry, and of course to a 21st celebration – laugh, love, grow and remain young at heart – forever 21.”

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