I’ve made some vague references to freelance gigs that were siphoning off a bit of time away from this blog, and today I’m excited to introduce SimmerD, a new monthly column I’ll be writing for Model D about all things food-related in the city. Below is Marvin’s accompanying slide show, which contains photos of many of the events I mention in the article that have been filling my schedule the last few months!
I thought that since I mention the Food Bazaar in the article, although it was a few months ago, now would be an appropriate time to go into a little more detail about what it was exactly and how it was developed. I would love to see people re-create these types of events in their own communities, if they don’t already exist! The following text was written months ago but I never had any photos to go with it (see below re: how crazy busy I was that night!) so it got lost in draft-land. I always intended to publish it, though, so here you go.
It started as a little kernel of an idea, and grew into something I could only have dreamed of- a festive, food-filled event attended by hundreds of people, all drawn by their love of local, artisan, small-batch foodstuffs. An event with 16 amazing local vendors, some of whom sold out of product in the first hour because of the overwhelming response.
I first started thinking of doing a holiday food event after our fledgling jam company participated in the Homeslice benefit for MOCAD in October. It was a great event, and wonderful exposure for our brand, but the percentage we were asked to donate back to the museum cut into our already slim profits. It got me thinking that rather than sell at a farmers’ market or other location where we’d have to pay a booth fee, why not organize our own event? I started asking around and brainstorming locations. As luck would have it, the person who lives above me volunteers for an art gallery that was trying to find events to host in order to expose people to their space. We ended up with 1800 square feet of free space at the Whitdel Arts in Southwest Detroit.
The next step was to find vendors. Through my involvement with GUDetroit, I know many food producers, both locally established businesses such as Simply Suzanne and Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, and tiny home-kitchen-based start-ups like Suddenly Sauer, Neighborhood Noodle, Detroit Zymology Guild, and Gang of Pour (links below). Through long chains of emails, I got everyone organized, and with the help of some of the other vendors (hi, Holly!) got all of the details worked out. A few more vendors were added through word of mouth, and Suzanne arranged for Michael Geiger to provide music. Marvin got prints made of 8 food-related photographs he’d taken, and hung those in the space.
Thanks to the magic of Facebook, promoting was a snap. Between all of the vendors and people inviting friends, the invite list was well over a thousand people. By the day of the event, over 400 had RSVP’d “yes”. We also got write-ups in both major Detroit weeklies, the Detroit News and a couple of online publications. I was floored and thrilled by all of the support and interest on the part of the press, but a tiny bit concerned about legal issues. Since this was originally intended as a semi-private, word-of mouth event, we hadn’t pulled any permits, and some of the vendors weren’t in strict compliance with MI food laws. Not only that, but our friend James was selling homemade wine on a “donation basis”. Two days before the event, I got a call from local NPR affiliate WDET asking if I would appear on the Craig Fahle Show to talk about the event (here’s the podcast, I’m on with Will of Corridor Sausage about halfway into the program). The irony was that they were referring to it as “Detroit’s first underground food show”. But we figured, hey, it took the city 10 years to finally crack down on Theater Bizarre… we might as well go for it and hope for the best.
At the outset, I had envisioned more of a “holiday party” where we would sell to friends and friends of friends, hang out and drink some wine, nothing too crazy. In actuality, I got to enjoy about 20 minutes of the 5-hour event and the rest of the time I was stuck at our booth because we were so slammed with customers! By the end of the night, we had sold out every last item we had for sale. The other vendors reported a similar hectic pace , but no one was complaining! I think there was a little bit of disbelief (at least on my part) that we had pulled it off, but we were ecstatic to know that this kind of an appetite exists in Detroit for the products we had to offer.
Thanks to everyone who participated, either as a vendor or attendee. I hope to repeat the event next holiday season or maybe even sooner- now that I (sort of) know what I’m doing, it should be a little less daunting! Below is a vendor list of links if anyone is interested in contacting them to get more information or order products.
Detroit Zymology Guild (soon to be Commissary)
RG Distribution (selling Kenzoil, El Azteco products, and more)