Attendees over the weekend at Denver’s brand new big music festival got a strong lineup of live acts to see and also a surprisingly strong lineup of food and drink options. At Grandoozy, some of the city’s top restaurants (including four Eater Essential 38 spots) sold meals that seemed a far cry from the hot dogs and funnel cakes of the last festival generation. Now, music and food fans can use an app to plan out their concert and their restaurant experiences.
Steuben’s, Bar Dough, and Biju’s Little Curry Shop were just a few of the 30 local vendors selling food throughout the weekend. Drinkers could order all-Colorado whiskey flights or actual cocktails and choose beers on tap from 18 Colorado craft breweries. Drinks like the West Coast Paloma with tequila, campari, lime juice, and soda water were pleasant surprises. And dishes such as Carrie Baird’s Fancy Toast with tomato jam, mozzarella, and a basil vinaigrette tasted not only good, but healthy.
Two restaurants that haven’t even opened yet used Grandoozy as a way to debut their food to the masses. Morin prepared a mimolette and apple butter grilled cheese on brioche bread, while Maine Shack made lobster rolls that sold out one day in 40 minutes.
“We were all on-board,” said Biju Thomas of himself and other local restaurant owners who participated. “It’s not like you’re in a restaurant town where it’s just a bunch of super fine-dining guys.” At the Biju’s Little Curry Shop food truck, Thomas sold handmade samosas over the weekend. Across the way, Comal Heritage Food Incubator set up a tent and sold more than 1,500 meals of gorditas, empanadas, and Syrian toshkas (spiced beef, cheese, and tomatoes on pita bread). Breakfast king Snooze next-door made Pineapple Upside Down and “Grand Snoozey” pancakes that were big dessert favorites.
The incentives for restaurant participation were many, according to Thomas. He acted as a “culinary ambassador” for the festival and along with the other food businesses received access, exposure and, yes, the chance to make a lot of money. To take part, each vendor came to a financial agreement with the festival operators, though Grandoozy’s parent company Superfly (see also Outside Lands and Bonnaroo) would not disclose any details.
Thomas says he, Superfly, and other local food ambassadors worked hard to get small businesses involved this year. Next year, he hopes to see even more international foods represented as well as lesser known operations. “My original goal was to help bring on tiny mom and pops,” he explained. “But it could also backfire [...] All of a sudden you’re expected to do 800 or 1000 meals, and it’s really hard unless you’ve done it before.”
But when a festival with room for 80,000 attendees runs well, it’s potentially a boon for everyone. “I think we really go nuts [next year],” Thomas added. “Let’s set up a stage to support these little businesses.”