Sam Bozzo – Garlic humor and a commitment to the festival’s spirit

Sam Bozzo - 1990 Garlic Festival President

Sam Bozzo remembers being on a Delta Airlines flight to Japan in
– the year he became the first Garlic Festival president to
visit Gilroy’s sister city of Takko-Machi.
Sam Bozzo remembers being on a Delta Airlines flight to Japan in 1990 – the year he became the first Garlic Festival president to visit Gilroy’s sister city of Takko-Machi.

During the flight, Bozzo heard his own voice in a recorded interview on the public address system describing the attraction of the festival to the passengers. Later, Bozzo played a tape of that same interview at the Garlic Festival’s annual meeting.

“For me, it told the story of how international we were,” he said. “We have people from all over the world coming. With our involvement with Takko-Machi, we know people come from all over the world.”

The festival in 1990 attracted about 125,000 guests. The Gilroy Dispatch wrote the event had been “flawless,” Bozzo remembers.

But there were a few hiccups to overcome. That year, the famous Garlic Train that brought visitors from San Francisco to the Garlic Capital had to be canceled, Bozzo said.

“One of the things that was unfortunate was that we couldn’t authorize the Garlic Train because of insurance,” he said. “And that was unfortunate because it was such a great thing coming from San Francisco.”

CalTrains wanted the festival organization to pick up the first $100,000 in liability if a passenger got hurt and sued. That amount of money would take almost half the profits the event, and Bozzo didn’t want to take the risk.

In 1990, Bozzo created public safety volunteers called “Garlic Angels,” the name coming from the Guardian Angels, well-known for protecting citizens on the streets of urban areas.

The Angels were particularly on the lookout for underage drinking problems if teenagers managed to sneak a drink, he said.

“The idea was to help us with the yard duty. We had them wear pink shirts,” he said. “Today we have the Info folks (to look out for trouble), which I think is a better use of volunteers.”

Bozzo has been involved with the culinary festival since its first year. He and his wife Judy set up a booth that year selling garlic soup.

Looking back, he laughs because the hot liquid might not have been a good choice to serve during the sweltering month of July. He ended up with about seven five-gallon buckets of soup. However, it did not go to waste. He and his wife simply sold the delicious brew at a discount to customers of his Digger Dan’s restaurant, he said with a chuckle.

Bozzo and his good friend Gene Sakahara, who served as president in 1991, have become the Ambassadors of Goodwill for the festival. They travel to various other festivals around America and Canada to demonstrate garlic cooking tips and recipes. They call themselves Team Saka-Bozzo and have a lively, light-hearted approach to entertain their audiences.

The team is even planning a garlic-oriented cookbook, calling it “Any Bozzo Can Cook,” he said. “People keep asking when it’s coming out. We’ve been saying for the last seven years, it’s coming out soon.”

Bozzo’s year as president deepened the relationship that Gilroy has with the community of Takko-Machi. The Japanese town of about 8,000 people had made a tradition of paying for the Gilroy Garlic Queen to come and visit at its annual beef and garlic festival. When Bozzo visited, he had a conversation with the mayor.

“What happened as a result of that, the mayor of that town wanted to do some kind of creative position where a young person, a graduate of a college who grew up in Gilroy, would go to work somewhere in Takko-Machi.”

The result was a new position, called coordinator of international relations, where a resident of Gilroy would live in the sister city for a year.

Bozzo’s professional life away from garlic is serving as the director of personnel for the Monterey County Office of Education. He feels proud of Gilroy’s status as the Garlic Capital.

“I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I don’t think about the Garlic Festival,” he said. “In our family, it’s been our life. We live it. To me, it’s what brings our community together.”