Fans of Traverse City's burgeoning culinary scene will have yet another reason to raise their glasses this fall: Taste of Traverse City, an inaugural foodie festival, is heading to the downtown district September 13-15.
The weekend-long event is the brainchild of Carol Lewis, owner of C. Lewis Event Group in Troy, Michigan, who opened a second event planning company with a staff of five in Traverse City in 2012 called Lakeshore Event Group. Lewis, who owns a second home here, says that after planning events for corporate clients for some 20 years – including major automotive shows and the Governor's Inauguration – she wanted to focus on creating an event of her own.
“I was looking to do something that would interest and inspire me,” she says.
Traverse City's acclaim as a foodie destination and Lewis' own epicurean passions led to the concept of Taste of Traverse City. The three-day event – which has as its theme “Sip, Sample & Shop” - will highlight regional chefs, restaurants and products in various venues throughout downtown, including the Open Space. Lewis – keenly aware of the rapid proliferation of festivals and events in the community, as well as intense seasonal demand on hotels – chose the festival's timing and design “specifically to appeal to locals as much as visitors."
“I didn't want to compete with anyone else's festival, and I didn't want to create something locals didn't enjoy or just had to deal with,” she explains. “My goal was to create something totally unique that has something for everyone. We have a number of different events at different prices for that reason, and we chose September...strategically, as it seemed to be perfect timing-wise for the community.”
Lewis acknowledges there may be some initial confusion over the event because of the Epicurean Classic, the now-defunct culinary festival that moved from Traverse City to St. Joseph and back in the 2000s before calling it quits in 2012. But she says that rather than celebrity appearances, book signings and high-ticket events – hallmarks of the Epicurean – the focus of her festival will be almost exclusively regional.
“It's called Taste of Traverse City, because TC is going to be its permanent home. We're not taking it anywhere else.”
Lewis gave The Ticker a sneak preview of this year's schedule, noting that full details will be available in the next week or two. In addition to the lineup described below, Lewis said she's in talks with several sponsors and partners to offer “specialized experiences” throughout the weekend.
“The end result is that each person can have a customizable weekend,” she says. “Whether you're just looking to get out for one afternoon and not spend much money, or you want to go all out and have an entire weekend of foodie experiences, you'll have both of those options at this festival.”
Taste of Traverse City 2013 Preview
Tickets to the following events will be available a la carte or as part of a weekend all-access festival pass. For more information, visit www.tasteoftraversecity.com.
Friday, September 13 – Downtown Grub Crawl
The festival weekend kicks off with the Downtown Grub Crawl, a traveling event from 5-9 p.m. in Traverse City's downtown district. General admission attendees will receive 20 “tasting punches,” which can be traded in at downtown restaurants and bars for special food and beverage samples. VIP ticketholders will receive 25 tasting punches, a festival gift and a private afterglow reception from 9-10 p.m. A hospitality area will be erected in a Park Street parking lot to house vendors from outside the downtown district.
Saturday, September 14 – Taste of Traverse City in the Open Space
Staged in the Open Space from 12-6 p.m., the Taste of Traverse City will feature multiple pavilions and stages focused on a broad spectrum of culinary fields. Lewis says beer, wine, food, retail and educational pavilions are all in the works, with a general admission ticket – estimated at just $15 – granting attendees access to all festival areas. A Grilling & Chilling zone will feature live musical entertainment and local chefs manning the grill; a demo stage, meanwhile, will give attendees an opportunity to brush up on their cooking skills.
Sunday, September 15 – Brunch Throwdown at the Hagerty Center
“This is one the chefs are particularly excited about,” teases Lewis. The concept: Sunday brunch – with a twist. A chef, winery and local farm will all be paired together on a team manning a brunch station at the venue, responsible for everything from creating the station's decor to providing the ingredients to planning and executing the menu. “I see this as an event with a lot of ambiance and fun – live entertainment, a Bloody Mary bar, and of course delicious local, seasonal food,” says Lewis.