Brett Friedman is the founder and CEO of Agency 21, the largest culinary event management company in the U.S., which now owns and operates the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival.
“It’s kind of a fresh change, to be honest,” Friedman said during a recent conversation about this year’s smaller but more complicated undertaking. “Our goal is to keep to the philosophy of celebrating cuisine throughout the South. But if there’s anything constant in life, it’s change, and that is very much what this year is going to be, and probably what the future is going to be.
“The pandemic obviously was not real good for the event industry. We did the best we could. We couldn’t do an event if we wanted to. And, yes, we all pivoted. The word of 2020 was pivot. So we did pivot to virtual events. But virtual doesn’t replace live events. Nothing replaces human engagement.”
The biggest part of that engagement will happen at Fourth Ward Park, where, unlike past years, the tasting tents will be open during the day, instead of in the evening.
“I love that location,” Friedman said. “I love Ponce City Market across the street. I love the growth that’s taking place in that area. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue. And if you’re going to do an event in today’s landscape, with the C-word reality, you gotta be outside.
“We are in the event business. And that’s a scary proposition for a lot of people. So what we’re here to do is create the safest environment possible, which in our opinion is an outdoor daytime event, following all of the state and city guidelines.”
Another change this year is the elimination of the food and drink seminars that traditionally took place in the conference rooms at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown.
“We could not rationalize doing indoor programing,” Friedman said. “Putting people in a really small enclosed environment to do classes, not only did we not think it was safe for the talent, we didn’t think it was safe for the consumers. So we made the decision to pause those in 2021, but we will be returning them in 2022.”
Live cooking demonstrations and a game day tailgate party are two of the major additions to the tasting tents this year.
“We’re adding this kind of barbecue environment,” Friedman said. “It’s a competition grill-off with local and out-of-town chefs and media and professional judges. Clearly barbecue is synonymous with Southern cooking, and we thought it was important to highlight that.
“Then on Sunday, it’s the first home game for the Falcons, so we figured, let’s do a tailgate. We want to celebrate that football is back, and who doesn’t love a good tailgate?”
There’s a new charity this year, too, as the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival partners with Second Helpings Atlanta to collect fresh surplus food to donate to local hunger relief agencies.
“It’s not overly complicated what we do, right? We bring people outside to have great food, and great drinks, and have fun,” Friedman said, summing up the appeal of the long-running festival. “It’s about the experience. It’s about getting people back to some level of normalcy.
“As I say to everyone I speak to, it’s been a humbling time for all of us in the industry. We need people’s support. This is our livelihood. But there’s a passion element to putting on events. We care about them. And we care about the communities we do our events in.”
Atlanta Food and Wine Festival
Sept. 9-12. Tasting tents $125 per day, $200 VIP; $225 weekend pass, $350 VIP. Historic Fourth Ward Park, 680 Dallas St., Atlanta. Intimate brunches and dinners $110-$250, various locations. atlfoodandwinefestival.com.
More fall food festivals:
Food That Rocks. The Sandy Springs event, produced by Taste of Atlanta and Visit Sandy Springs tourism agency, will offer all-inclusive food and drink prepared by more than 18 local restaurants. Live musical performances are scheduled for each session.
Sept. 23-25. foodthatrocks.org/
Gather ‘Round Festival. The inaugural event will be curated and produced by Southern Culinary & Creative and hosted by the forthcoming Midtown hotel Epicurean Atlanta. Elizabeth Feichter, co-founder of Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, is a partner in Southern Culinary & Creative. Epicurean Atlanta executive chef Ewart Wardhaugh will collaborate with talent from the hotel’s sister properties for the weekend including the team from Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida. The weekend’s lineup will also include chefs from around the Southeast.
Oct. 14-17. gatherroundatl.com/
Taste of Marietta. Try food from several Marietta restaurants while listening to live music on the Marietta Square.
Oct. 24. tasteofmarietta.com/
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