Lee Brian Schrager, director of special events and media relations at Southern Wine & Spirits, is the founder of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which in February drew more than 40,000 attendees and 100 chefs, and raised more than $1.7 million for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University. This fall he launched the New York City Wine & Food Festival, which put 18,000 tickets on sale for more than 50 events at more than 10 different sites over Columbus Day weekend (October 9 to October 12), with proceeds going to the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength.
What was the biggest challenge?
Just ﬁnding the locations probably took us one year—getting the right backdrop is very, very important, as it’s what makes South Beach. I see the meatpacking district as the nucleus of the [New York] festival. We wanted the festival to be grassroots, local, and to make the meatpacking district come alive that weekend. It’s important to know that we’re not bringing South Beach to New York; we’re not looking to replicate or duplicate what we do down there … and we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re building the events around the venues, not the other way around.
How about the least challenging aspect?
Getting the sponsors on board, even given the crummy economy. [I think it has to do with] the history and success of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival … We have almost $3 million in sponsorship. A launch party in November 2007 drew 1,800 guests and raised more than $300,000.
Why did you host the event so far in advance of the actual festival?
I was afraid if we didn’t do an event last year, no one would ever believe we were coming. So we focused on the forgotten chef—the pastry chefs. The response was amazing. That night, walking through the venue, I knew we were onto something.