Phoenix Needs to Step Up Its Food Festival Game

Categories: Wake Up Call

BaoHaus' Eddie Huang about to visit great harm upon an unsuspecting piece of ginger.
Food festivals have been a point of contention here at Chow Bella and among our treasured readers. Our resident food critic even put the question of their worth to local chefs, and though the response was generally positive, there were some notable dissenters.

Let me suggest that's because we don't have food festivals such as The Great GoogaMooga in Brooklyn. Some of you have bemoaned comparing Phoenix to other cities and that's fine . . . if you're totally satisfied with mediocrity. I challenge you to read this bitingly hilarious battlefield-dispatch by BaoHaus' Eddie Huang in The New York Observer and not want a part of that intensity. Then check out this GoogaMooga promo video for BaoHaus because, damn, Huang makes a tasty-looking bun:

Granted, it sounds like it took two days for organizers and restaurants to get it right. Here are the things that jump out at us:

1. General admission for the event was free. No matter how long the lines get, they're always worse if you paid money for the privilege of standing in them.
2. They offered a $249 "Extra Mooga" VIP ticket ($260 after fees). The benefits of the ticket (cooking demonstrations from famous local chefs, private food lines, big beer, etc) sounded nice but apparently it was something of a "shitshow". Especially on the first day.
3. Organizers almost immediately offered a complete refund and an apology for anyone who put up the money for the Extra Mooga tickets. Given that they want to grow this into a recurring event, a virtual culinary Woodstock, this seems like a prudent way to keep the pitchforks at bay.

The key lessons here is that the public isn't wrong for demanding excellence for their money and sweat and that dedicated organizers and chefs can and should make it happen.

Also: Big Gay Ice Cream

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JuxtaPalate Food Blog
JuxtaPalate Food Blog

We all enjoy Devoured. Always a good gig.

Other than that, I think we're all hungry for more than just food sampling festival thingers, throw downs or bizzare competitions.

Steve D.
Steve D.

Most reports from the Googa Mooga festival echo the same problems from Phoenix festivals: long lines, cramped space, high prices, outdoor heat, vendors running out of food, etc., not to mention the problems that begat the full refunds on VIP tickets. It seems like the best festivals sell out a limited number of tickets beforehand, so they have a good handle on demand and ample space. And on the flip side, as some chefs said yesterday, the best festivals allow the chefs some space, time, knowledge of demand, and financial incentive to allow them to get creative and show their stuff.  For that reason Devoured is by far the best in town and is probably the only festival I'll attend on a yearly basis.

Ando Muneno
Ando Muneno

I think what struck me is that the lines might have been long but not... insurmountable. 30-40 minutes seemed to be the consensus and while that sucks that means you can still  hit 3-4 places over the course of a couple hours. I read other accounts that said that there were huge lines at the famous places but lesser known joints had little to no line. That seems reasonable to me and it's one of the reasons I like food festivals, it gives you a chance to scope out establishments that normally fly under the radar. That's what made the Chandler BBQ festival and enjoyable experience. There were enough stalls, spread over a large enough area, that if something was busy you could come back later or just try  something completely different instead. 

I think the other important perspective is that they crammed ~40k people through their festival. 

But I agree, I think organizers and the public would be well served by keeping a tighter reign on their attendance numbers. I'm sure that's easier said than done though. 


It's actually not hard to do at all. I have put on a whole heck of a lot of food events in this town and I never oversell. It's tempting as an organizer to use the "door" as your only source of revenue so therefore overselling is the way organizers pay for the event. I just don't do it. I'd rather use a different revenue strategy, keep it pleasant for attendees and keep them coming back for more. Just my opinion.

Ando Muneno
Ando Muneno

I meant to say, I think it's hard for organizers to resist overselling tickets because money. 

I have to wonder if recurring events are run by the same organizers every year? Like, do they really care if people have a miserable time because they won't be doing it next year anyways?

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