WASHINGTON The second annual Food & Wine Festival at National Harbor hits Maryland's waterfront complex June 6 and 7. Show manager Lynn Schwartz of Annapolis-based Shows Inc. is returning after producing the 2008 event, which she considered a success—despite a few problems. The festival hit its attendance target of 5,000 guests per day on the first day, but fell short on the second. This time around, Schwartz has increased the emphasis on food (with fewer alcohol vendors), developed programs for children (who weren't allowed last year), and changed the layout to boost attendance. With the festival just weeks away—and final preparations in high gear—we spoke to Schwartz about these and other changes.
What's planned to make this year better for families?
One of our lessons learned from last year, our debut year, was that some attendees want to bring their children to the festival. People voiced their complaints as it is, after all, an outdoor weekend event. I had to listen to our audience. To that end, we have added hands-on cooking classes for children, face painters, a balloon-animal maker, and the Maryland-Delaware Watermelon Association’s Watermelon Queen will host a watermelon seed spitting contest. The National Peanut Board with mascot Buddy McNutty will teach kids fun tasty ways to incorporate more healthy produce options into their diet and creatively explore, through drawing, their favorite ways to put that energy to work. Pirate cruises on the Potomac River are available at an extra charge.
Has your marketing plan changed this year?
I wouldn’t say that it has changed but rather expanded. We have hired a PR team to help promote the show, have several print ads, a radio campaign, and e-mail blasts under way. In addition, we have created our own grassroots efforts, including asking every exhibitor, speaker, and sponsor to send a blast out about the show. We’ve made a wonderful poster, which is being distributed throughout the D.C. metro area.
What's your game plan for reaching the size of bigger food fests in Aspen and South Beach?
We are not trying to duplicate Aspen or South Beach, but we are trying to grow the show and improve the show each year so that we offer something of true quality that will be significant on a national level. In the last decade, the D.C. metro area has become a food city, and we believe this should be honored. We hope to reflect this in the festival. While we offer an outdoor, waterside festival in a resort-style location with live music, we also present top chefs from around the country and include not only small artisanal producers and farmers, but also food and beverage products from around the world. We are embracing wine, food, beer, and spirits. There's also an educational component, and we highlight issues of sustainability and current food trends.
Does the weather play a large role in your preparations?
Our show runs rain or shine. Of course, we prefer shine, so we have changed our dates from May to the first weekend in June. Our exhibitors are housed in individual tents that are covered on three sides, and our sponsors are housed under large pavilions, so it is possible to enjoy the show in the rain.
Do you think the festival gives the National Harbor more exposure as a Washington area venue?
In my opinion, the greatest benefit National Harbor receives is the exposure from hosting a large, quality event like this. It gets people excited about visiting National Harbor for the first time. I think once attendees arrive, they will like what they experience and want to come back to the complex throughout the year.