Raleigh Food and Wine Festival Main Event, 2015
The polished wood floors, arched windows, and miniature chandeliers dangling from the ceiling of the newly remodeled yarn mill-turned-event space above Raleigh’s Babylon
will host more than five hundred guests on Sunday afternoon, the culmination of the city’s second-annual Food and Wine Festival.
But the fun starts today
, as participating shops and restaurants all across town host cooking classes, lunches and dinners, wine-tastings, and tours. Babylon owner Samad Hachby and Lisa Jeffries of Raleighwood Media and Event Group take a democratic approach to what they hope will become Raleigh’s trademark food and drink festival. They want to give participants the freedom to host whatever kinds of events they want, when they want and to charge however much they want for them, be it a prix-fixe wine-pairing dinner or a free tour.
Then, a total of around forty vendors will converge for a main tasting event on Sunday, where tickets priced at $40 make it relatively accessible for such an event.
“That fits with the philosophy of the festival,” says Hachby, who has lived in Raleigh since 1998 and opened Babylon in 2011. “We want people to come out, meet the chefs, for it not to be too costly so people have no reason not to come out. We want this beautiful sweet spot in which everyone is happy.”
For the second year of the festival, co-founders Hachby and Jeffries expect to sell out Sunday’s event and to drive business to participating vendors in the days leading up to it. Babylon will host dinners and a-wine tasting class Thursday and Friday evenings, including a five-course meal prepared by world-renowned guest chef Najat Kaanache
, who flew in for the week from Mexico City. Other participants include lucettegrace
, Midtown Grille
, and Indio
. Midtown Olive Oil
, Whole Foods, Ararat Import
, Crude Bitters and Sodas
and the Raleigh Rum and Distillery Company
will host tours and tastings as well.
“I was really happy somebody took the initiative and started [a food and drink festival] in Raleigh,” says Craig Rudewicz, the owner of Crude Bitters and Sodas. He participated last year. “We’re just a very small company doing our own little thing and to get a festival shining a light on what I do, it drew more attention to my stock and brought in more foot traffic.”
On Sunday, Hachby will provide tables, linens, disposables, and, most important, space for the vendors at Babylon, all for free save the price of the rental deposit.
“We tried to make it easy, so when they show up on Sunday, all they have to do is come staff their table with a sample item,” says Jeffries. “Service is easy-come, easy-go, and we want ticket prices to be fair enough to cover the expense but not so expensive that just people with money can afford to come.”
That fairness, extended to both guests and vendors, is key, and Hachby says he wants small or new businesses with a lower profile to be able to participate.
Jeffries and Hachby expect the festival to grow larger in the years to come, to attract foodies and vendors from across the state and nationally, and to eventually outgrow the main event space at Babylon. Hachby says he hopes to one day bring in under-the-radar ethnic restaurants in places like Cary, “where I eat amazing food for eight bucks,” but where restaurant owners don’t have as much of a social media presence, may not speak English well or could be shy to get involved.
“There is a lot of great food beyond two miles from us,” Hachby says. “There is no ego here. We want other, diverse players in Raleigh and the surrounding area to participate and embrace it. We want to be collaborative and open-minded and push the envelope a little bit.”
If you're planning on coming on Sunday, come hungry, Jeffries and Hachby advise.
"Last year, the complaint was 'oh my God, there's so much food,'" Hachby says.
"Not actually a complaint, but a constructive criticism," explains Jeffries. "The quality is there, and you'll want to try everything."