Raleigh, N.C. — Sometimes you feel like drinking a beer in the street. Sometimes you don’t.
With all due respect to the fabulous outdoor festival season in Raleigh sometimes a party isn’t about being jostled standing in a food truck line, or throwing back a cold one walking down Fayetteville.
Downtown Raleigh has a lot more to offer than just craft beer and food a la carte, and the Raleigh Food & Wine Festival is out to prove it.
A four-day celebration, participating businesses simply show off what makes them great, on their own terms, between May 19-22. It might be about strawberries, strawberries, strawberries at lucettegrace, or Southern hospitality Saturday afternoon front porch sittin’ and sippin’ at Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen, or a free tasting at The Raleigh Wine Shop.
According to festival co-founder Samad Hachby, it’s a “deconstructed food and wine festival” with more than 40 vendors offering special prix fixe dinners, samplings, guest chef events, cooking classes and tours. Each option is listed on the website, with details on the event and whether or not reservations are required.
Creative Director and Executive Chef of Babylon Restaurant & Melrose Knitting Mill special events venue, Hachby sprang the festival idea on Raleighwood Media Group’s Lisa Jeffries when she walked into the restaurant one day.
“Samad and I had been working together for several years. He’s a big ideas guy, and wanted to go right into a seven-day program from the start, but I convinced him we should start a little smaller and grow into that,” Jeffries said with a laugh.
It’s the festival’s second year, and wine is definitely in the spotlight.
“We have a really nice mix of wines,” Jeffries said. “We really do almost have it all: a vineyard from the Outer Banks sharing their made-in-NC wines, retailers and distributors based in Raleigh sharing wines that are on restaurant and bar menus in the area, and wines you can buy in downtown Raleigh, including imported Greek wines from Taverna Agora.”
Sunday afternoon is the event most people think of when they hear “food and wine festival,” a half-day grand tasting bringing all of the participants together in one place at Babylon. All samples are included in the admission ticket, and VIP ticket holders are welcomed an hour early with a special cocktail.
Jeffries explained that ticket numbers are limited to a 10:1 attendee to vendor ratio to ensure two outcomes: attendees aren’t waiting in line all day long for samples, and most importantly, to give participating businesses “a real chance to have quality face time with attendees. They get to talk about what they’re sampling, their businesses, what they’re passionate about…and that can make a real connection with someone who is now more likely to come back and purchase with that business owner later after the festival.”
In addition to spotlighting prominent local businesses, the festival is also proud to support the work of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina with a supporting donation from each general admission and VIP ticket sold.
Jen Baker is a Sustainability Analyst for the City of Raleigh by day, but writes about Raleigh life by night for Raleigh & Co.