Back for its ninth year (May 30-June 2), the city’s top food fest is just days away. And with co-founder Dominique Love passing the torch to fellow co-founder Elizabeth Feichter and team, it’s all systems go. From the new Historic Fourth Ward Park tasting tents location to a fun barbecue in a brewery, bigger is better.
We sat down with Elizabeth to chat about everything from life without Dominique right by her side and what this year’s guests can expect to how she juggles planning the festival to what she’s learned about herself and this journey called life.
By Laura Janelle Downey
Atlanta Best Media: Where you are since the transition? What is different?
Elizabeth Feichter: It feels like half of me is missing but Dominique is doing wonderful things. So the transition has been a whirlwind—there is never really downtime after you start working on the Festival. It just kind of increases in intensity. I have people say to me all the time, ‘Oh, this must be so much easier now that you are nine years in’ and I am like, ‘Not sure that it’s easier, there are just more expectations.’
But of course, we miss Dominique a lot. I am excited that she is taking this time to explore her next great things in life but after being in such a close partnership with someone for so long, I do feel like a part of me is gone. This is so much a passion project for the both of us, that I know she is still tied to it in her heart. I get satisfaction out of being able to carry the baby a little further.
ABM: Do you find yourself texting or calling her since she has been gone?
EF: Ha-ha yes, always. But you know we were very complementary of one another’s skills so it has been interesting trying to find ways to bridge that gap.
We have had the good fortune of keeping some of the key people who have been involved in the Festival since the beginning. And we have also found such amazing new team members to complement that group. It’s nice to be able to have a core group around that we can depend on.
And you learn lessons from your past. It’s been interesting to watch some of the other festivals that are coming to the scene and be like, ‘Oh, I remember that. Do it this way! No, not that way!’
ABM: Nine years is huge.
EF: It is. It still feels like year two to me to a certain extent.
ABM: You mentioned more expectations…
EF: The Festival has been a very deep and rich experience and so creating opportunities for learning and enjoying has always been at the core of what we do. It is fun to see talent from across the Southeast come up with new things every year. We want to be a place that you keep coming back to because you love the experience and because you are guaranteed a delicious meal. We started saying we want guests to see it first, experience it first, and taste it first, and that still holds true. We are calling this year’s advisory council Off the Eaten Path. It speaks to the undiscovered talent or places you might not have thought about or traveled to in a while.
EF: It is a beautiful park. You have to be thoughtful about providing the guests with a new and different experience. Old Fourth Ward provides us with an opportunity for a better setup for a larger crowd of people.
ABM: Will the new location be a deterrent to people who are used to everything being near Loews Atlanta Hotel?
EF: The Piedmont Park location was about a mile-and-a-half away and the Old Fourth Ward location is maybe 2 miles. It’s not that much farther and we have built in a significant amount of time between our classes and the Tasting Tents. It is such a convenient location—you have Ponce City Market right across the street and it’s just off BeltLine, which is such an attractive component to our city.
ABM: What about the Connoisseur Dinner Series? Will there be anything unexpected?
EF: We are doing a higher-end event in the cafeteria of the nonprofit CARE that is called Family Meal. It is going to be really fun by taking this cafeteria idea and making it a fancy, multicourse meal served by award-winning chefs. We’ll use that setting to tell the story about how important the true backbone of any kitchen is and how those diverse and multicultural teams are so integral to any restaurant’s success. And then we are doing a much more casual kind of barbecue—a white tablecloth barbecue in the Atlanta Bicycle Barn. These events provide guests with an unexpected setting.
ABM: Let’s talk food.
EF: There are 55 classes to choose from. And as for the Tents, we want it to be a real exploration of the South. Some of the ones we are doing include a Southern Sweet and Savory tent, a Southern Farm tent, and a Southern Fizz tent where you will have four different bubbles every day and that will be paired with one spicy and one fried food.
ABM: What do you want a person who has never been to the festival to know?
EF: There is something for everyone. It’s the opportunity to sit and eat and fill our bellies with good food and drink, and beyond that, to nourish our souls from the conversations being had at a table or in a tent.
ABM: This is a big undertaking. What are you doing to stay sane?
EF: My husband and I were talking and I was like, ‘We have to find a time for me to have an hour in the morning with no one touching me. I don’t need the dog on me, or the kids pulling at me or anybody asking me for anything.’ I walk every single morning—rain or shine—with my two pit bulls, Owen and Zoey. It’s amazing to have quiet time and sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee and take time for yourself.
ABM: Who helps you be your best self?
EF: My close friends and my community. It goes back to why we started the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. The idea of sitting at a table for hours and just talking with the people you love the most—I love that time I get to spend with my community and my tribe. I have a really close group of people that lift me up and support me and help me through crazy times. They center me and keep me balanced. I am grateful for those people.
ABM: What have you learned about yourself through this whole process?
EF: I have learned that staying grounded, staying connected, and staying true to what I am passionate about is the most important thing for me to feel fulfillment and like I have done what I am supposed to do in the world.