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Local Food Events Lose Thousands in Fundraising Dollars as Large Group Ban Takes Effect

“We have to do what’s best for the community”

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A crowd in a room for a food event.
A Taste of Fifth in 2019
A Taste of Fifth [Official]

Another ripple effect of COVID-19: Canceled food events say thousands of dollars that they were planning to raise for nonprofits has evaporated in light of the state’s new mandate banning group gatherings over 500 people in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus across the city.

Spring food festivals and culinary events across the city — from very large operations, like Cherry Bombe’s annual Jubilee, to the local neighborhood stalwarts, like Park Slope’s Taste on Fifth — have been canceled in the past 48 hours. It’s a move that event organizers are agreeing is necessary for public health safety, although complying means damaging revenue losses for the organizations and the various charities that some festivals support.

On Monday, local food event organizers were watching the rising number of confirmed cases of new coronavirus cautiously while keeping an eye on lower-than-usual ticket sales, several people tell Eater. By the end of the week, the venues had no choice but to shut down.

“We have to do what’s best for the community,” says Glen Whitney, president of the Museum of Food and Drink, which canceled an event scheduled for next week and postponed the opening of a new exhibition. The team is now pivoting to come up with creative ways to connect with the museum’s community while the social distancing measures are in effect, Whitney says.

The museum was scheduled to host a panel discussion next Wednesday with food world luminaries, including Top Chef stars and restaurateurs Kwame Onwuachi and Adrienne Cheatham, in anticipation of MOFAD’s new exhibition exploring the way that African American cuisine has shaped America, originally scheduled to open on April 3. Now, everything has been postponed indefinitely — and since the museum is currently in between exhibitions, it’s not taking in any revenue at this time.

“We’ve been through numerous rounds of this sort of thing,” Whitney says, citing the last recession. While he understands and expects donations and funding for the nonprofit to take a hit, Whitney notes that MOFAD has a “supportive community,” and says that the team is “going to be creative and find ways to get through this.”

Cookbook author and photographer Alan Batt, who was scheduled to participate in MOFAD’s event next week, was also in the process of organizing his own annual culinary event, the Chef’s Connection’s Great Gathering of Chefs, which has since been postponed.

Over 60 chefs were due to fly in from around the country for the Great Gathering, which was meant to celebrate Batt’s launch of Toques In Black: A Celebration Of Black Chefs. The cookbook featured over 100 black chefs across the country, including well-known New York City chefs and restaurateurs Marcus Samuelsson and JJ Johnson.

The event was slated to raise between $20,000 to $30,000 for the Food and Finance High School and provide funding for the Chef’s Connection line cook program, which sends small groups of chefs of color through intensive 10-day culinary training boot camps. After completing the program, 85 percent of graduates are placed in jobs, Batt says.

Plus, the rent paid to host the gathering at the Prince George Ballroom, in Midtown, would have gone towards supporting low-income housing tenants in the building. “The chefs were so excited,” Batt says of the event. “Black chefs don’t get the attention that they should.”

The event has currently been rescheduled to April 20.

In Brooklyn, Park Slope’s eight-year-old food festival “A Taste of Fifth” has also been canceled. Over 45 neighborhood restaurants participate in the festival, says Mark Caserta, the executive director of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, and the event usually attracts around 800 guests and participants.

Ticket sales from the festival typically generate about $15,000 for multiple charities in the area, and it also raises an additional $15,000 that goes towards supporting and improving the neighborhood every year. It’s money that Caserta says the organization will lose this year, although they are encouraging people to still donate to the charities online.

Other food festivals that have canceled or postponed operations as the city’s government bans large gatherings include women-focused food media company Cherry Bombe’s annual New York City Jubilee, originally scheduled for April 5, and the high-profile Chef’s for Kids Cancer event, which was scheduled for Wednesday, March 11. Chef’s for Kids Cancer, which has raised $5 million for childhood cancer research over the past four years, has been postponed until an unspecified date. Cherry Bombe is planning a digital version of Jubilee.

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