Wine, Food fest seeks revenues

November 7, 2009
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Even before the first sample of Chardonnay is poured at the second Grand Rapids Wine & Food Festival opening Thursday evening in DeVos Place, Showspan Inc. Vice President Henri Boucher said revenue from booth rentals was already up from the inaugural event.

That is good news for the event’s co-producers, Showspan and the Convention and Arena Authority, because last year’s festival bled $30,000.

Despite the red ink, though, both the CAA and Showspan decided to go forward with a second event almost immediately after the first one finished because of the reaction they received from those who attended.

“It was a tremendous success as far as the crowds were concerned,” said Boucher, who added that just under 7,000 attended the three-day event last year. “The reaction of everyone leaving showed that they were pleased.”

Boucher said revenue from booth rentals is up by roughly $25,000 compared to last year, when the total reached $96,600. The goal for this year’s event was $130,000, and the increase is getting the producers close to that figure.

The additional booths mean this year’s event can’t be held exclusively within the Steelcase Ballroom. Boucher said the food booths will be set up in the Secchia Lobby on the Grand River side of DeVos Place; the area will be called the Riverwalk Marketplace. A dozen restaurants are participating in this year’s event, up from five last year.

Boucher said the producers are hoping revenue from admissions will reach $75,000, which would be about a third more than last year’s take of $52,000. Trading Sunday as an event day for Thursday this year also is expected to draw a bigger crowd and a larger gate. Admission is $15. There will be two box offices selling tasting tickets this year, and an area in the Welsh Lobby where attendees can relax and take a break. This year’s event will feature 1,000 wines and 100 craft beers.

Boucher told the CAA he is trying to get a feel for the event’s future, and one idea he is toying with is adding more food booths and bringing in celebrity chefs — cashing in on what has become a cooking craze on network and cable TV.

CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan said the festival currently is being used to draw meetings to the convention center by promoting the event as the entertainment piece of a business or organizational conference. He also said a few local businesses have already tied into the event. Legacy Trust offers its own tasting event for clients before they attend the festival and law firm Clark Hill holds a reception prior to it for the CAA and other public officials.

Boucher said this year’s event has lower production and advertising expenses and a goal of earning a $45,000 surplus. If that number is reached, producers will complete a $75,000 turnaround from last year.

When asked why the festival closes at 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights instead of running until at least 10 p.m., Boucher said he doesn’t want the event to compete with downtown nightspots, and he expects that many attendees will hit at least one after the festival.

“This is a big part of bringing people downtown,” said Boucher. “It is a tasting that we don’t want to turn into a bash.”

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