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Every year people flock to festivals in different cities to sample a variety of foods and drinks. The BayHaven Food & Wine Festival coming back to Charlotte for the second year will offer a homecoming experience Black foodies, wine lovers and professional chefs are not likely to find elsewhere.
“I did the event last year, and I would definitely say it’s probably one of the best that I’ve ever done,” says Chris Scott, chef and owner of Harlem’s Butterfunk Biscuit Co. (Butterfunk Biscuit Co. | New York, NY). The critically-acclaimed chef and new cookbook author appreciates the rewards of a festival sponsored by and focused on Blacks in the hospitality business.
“You feel at home, from the ingredients you see to the jokes being spread in the room, to the laughter, to the music in the background. It’s unapologetically Black, and I totally love it,” Scott adds.
A Love Project
The Bayhaven Food & Wine Festival (BFWF) founders are well-known and respected entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area. Greg and Subrina Collier have garnered high praise for their Leah & Louise (Leah and Louise – A Southern-inspired Juke Joint) and Uptown Yolk restaurants.
Subrina’s decades of front-of-the-house experience and Greg’s years of working as a celebrated chef form the framework for the festival. “People trust us. They trust what we are doing and creating, so I want to make sure I’m giving them as broad an experience and as pleasurable an experience as possible,” says Subrina, a 2020 James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellow.
In 2016, the couple launched an innovative dinner series with Black chefs to support people of color in culinary arts, hospitality and beverage services. The success of that project inspired the restaurateur to create a Black food and wine festival.
“This is a love project for me. We had about 2,500 people come out for the festival last year on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This year we expanded to Wednesday and Thursday to add more programming and dinners,” Subrina explains.
This year’s BFWF will be held October 19-23 and is open to festival goers 21 or older. More than 100 chefs, artisans, farmers, vintners and brewers will present their creations. “The beautiful thing about the festival is we had so many people from last year who wanted to return. Because they came last year, we kind of gave them first dibs on what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it,” Greg says.
The 2021 festival theme was “Renaissance,” a tribute to Harlem. The “Homecoming” theme for the 2nd annual BFWF salutes historically Black college culture, traditions and celebrations. Subrina shares the reason for that choice.
“Homecoming is a part of my life. That’s a part of a lot of Black people’s lives. We like going to college homecoming activities, getting together with alumni and having a good time. I wanted us to experience that at the festival.”
All of the BWFW events are planned around the “Homecoming” theme. That includes a Food Truck Rally with a variety of cuisines, a pep rally with tasting tents, a tailgate party, a homecoming gala and dinners curated by celebrity chefs. “We have our fun moments like the tasting tent. We have our more formal moments like the gala. We have our more casual moments like the tailgate experience. I want layered experiences to cater to different people,” adds Subrina.
Chefs, who have appeared on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” and some with James Beard Awards or nominations are cooking at the festival. Among the critically-acclaimed chefs are Ashleigh Shanti, Ricky Moore, Keith Rhodes, Christopher Scott, Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Lisa Brooks, Adrian Lipscombe and Armani Johnson.
The unique dining events will include the James Beard and Friends Dinner, Seafood 101 Dinner, Wild Game Dinner, Vegan Vegetarian/CBD-Infused Dinner and Homecoming Sunday Brunch.
Most of the activities for the five-day festival will be held on the Camp North End campus and in Uptown Charlotte. Subrina planned events to be centrally located or a short drive. The James Beard and Friends Dinner and the Homecoming Sunday Brunch will be at Skyline Terrace near Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU.
New at BayHaven Food & Wine Festival
The Colliers designed BFWF to showcase the talents of Blacks in the hospitality industry. In addition to some new chefs, some new drink specialists are among the presenters. San Antonio’s Weathered Souls Brewing will be there with 2021 participants Brown Estate Winery, McBride Sisters Wine Company, La Fête Wine Company and Mermosa Winery & Boutique.
Chef Greg is most excited about the opportunity for Black hospitality professionals to meet and have meaningful discussions. “This year, we’re having a symposium. We have four panels that we’re doing Thursday morning. The makeup of that room is going to be panelists, students, ticket holders and festival participants.”
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Greg continues with an explanation of the symposium’s importance. “Each of these panels is filled with amazing Black men and women. Forty-five minutes to an hour is not long enough to fix anything, but I don’t think we’ve had enough of the conversation amongst ourselves about, ‘Hey, what are you doing that works, what do you think I can do to improve, and what issues are you having?’”
In addition to the economic empowerment and community development the Colliers hope to foster, they want the festival to be fun for people with different culinary tastes. Last year’s large dinners with 200 seats or more proved challenging.
This October, there are more dinners with only about 60 people attending each. “It’s a little more intimate. Like they do at other food and wine festivals, you may have two or three dinners at the same time just to give people some variety,” says Subrina.
The BFWF co-founder is thrilled that people who buy tickets for the first-ever Homecoming Gala will have a chance to dress up, dine, dance and mingle at a prom-like party. The ticketing structure for the festival is also new, starting with a $75 general admission. Subrina shares why they increased the basic ticket price.
“Last year, when we did the food truck festival, you paid $10 admission, but it didn’t include the food. You still had to buy from the vendors. This year, we wanted people to experience it without the need to purchase food from the individual vendors.”
The $75 covers the cost of near entrée-size meals from three food trucks plus adult beverages. Buying a ticket for the Thursday lunch gets you into the symposium panel discussions. On the high-end, a $710 package covers all the main events, including the tasting tent, tailgate rally, symposium lunch, gala and Sunday brunch. “Packages went so fast last year, we wanted to add more to them and make them more inclusive. I’ve been to other festivals where the packages can go up to $2,000 a person,” Subrina says.
Keep Them Coming Back
BFWF highlights Black foodways and inclusively embraces Black cuisine and culture, something Subrina never experienced at other food and wine festivals. Chef Scott understands precisely what it means to be celebrated and uplifted for who you are.
“They have created a safe place where we can be our true selves and really submerge ourselves into the vibe, the culture, and everything going on there,” he says. “We can do this without feeling like our food is being judged or looked at in some kind of way like it is whenever we’re doing other events.”
Scott is hosting a seafood dinner on Friday night and a book signing on Saturday. His new cookbook, “Homage: Recipes and Stories from an Amish Soul Food Kitchen,” was released on September 20.
Native Texan Adrian Lipscombe is also returning to BFWF this year. She is the founder of the 40 Acres Project, which aims to preserve Black agriculture and foodways through land purchase. Lipscombe will bring her Texas culture and history to the tailgate event and a dessert to the vegan and vegetarian dinner. Last year, she enjoyed getting together with other BIPOC food and beverage industry professionals.
“I believe it is important to have festivals like this to connect BIPOC chefs. It shows the younger generations in food hospitality that there is support for them and our culture in food. It creates a space that showcases our food culture and place in the world to the public,” says Chef Lipscombe.
The Colliers, who sit on President Joe Biden’s Small Business and Entrepreneurs Advisory Council, are candid about the lessons they learned from organizing a BFWF board and launching the 2021 event with just one year of planning. Because they are grinders, they thought it would be easier to do much of the work themselves.
They now accept that it is better to pay for expertise and free up time for Subrina to host and for Greg to cook and hang out with chefs. “Last year taught us it’s not only okay to get help, but it’s also empowering and magnifying,” Greg says.
Subrina found out she was pregnant on the first day of the 2021 festival. Despite her exhaustion at the end of the events, she still sent the festival’s board an email with ideas for 2022. Being a restaurateur and mother of three-month-old Seleah has encouraged her to share responsibilities for the festival.
The Tennessee natives are convinced that bringing Blacks in hospitality together to showcase their talents and expand the awareness of Black festival goers is worth all the work and effort. “I want to do it every year. This is my love project. I want them to come back every year and look forward to what the theme will be next time.”
Go to the BayHaven Food & Wine Festival’s website BayHaven Food & Wine Festival for more information, hotel links and ticket purchases. You can follow @bayhavenfoodandwinefestival on Instagram.
Tickets are only available online through the BFWF website or Eventbrite and must be purchased by 12 pm noon on October 12.