Zestfest Midwest 2013 – 2 day recap


I have a huge conflict in reporting this show, but I owe our followers the truth, so I have to walk a tightrope now.   I am scared of heights too.  For those of you that do not know the conflict let me go over that for you.  We have month plus spicy cooking contest for the last 3 years involving some of the best product makers our community has to offer.    This year we had prizes valued over $4,000 including 2 free show booths to the winner, which for a little blog like mine, I can’t understate enough how much that means to me.  One of these 2 shows is Zestfest Midwest.  In exchange for a web banner and some online support, they gave a free booth to our winner, Mike Isenberg of Wicked Cactus Sauces.  Plus, Mike got his own spot on the chef stage to do a cooking 45 minute cooking demo.  I am not sure what the value of that is, to me it is worth a lot to get that kind of exposure, so I am so grateful that I Mike got that time on the stage just because he won my little spicy cooking contest.

With a better understanding of my dilemma, how do I report to you about this event without peeing on the hand that fed me?  I held back on reporting this Friday, because everyone was trying to stay positive for Saturday.  Friday was bad attendance to the extreme, but the thought was that the last work day of the week meant low attendance and the weekend end would save face.  While Saturday was 50 times better, the math still looks bad.  Only a handful of vendors saw profit.  When you invest the booth fee, and add in the expense of travel for those that live outside the area, there is a lot to overcome.  Especially for a three day show, another hotel day stay, another day away from family, work, and business as usual, it is very hard to get your money back when the show is a bust.  I spent the last 2 days talking to these vendors, and frankly they had plenty of time to talk. The vendors would stroll across the cavernous Ohio Expo Center with no fear that they would lose business.  Saturday really was a lot busier than Friday, but that is like saying that the white habanero is a lot hotter than the orange habanero.   There really isn’t that much of a noticeable difference in the end.

The problem might have come with people understanding what exactly Zestfest Midwest was. People told me they saw signs for it, but did not see any explanation.  The gate was $15/day or $30 for a 3-day pass and parking was $5/day on top of that.  For someone that doesn’t know what Zestfest Midwest is, why would they commit to that cost for a brand new show?   If they do pay, then how much do they buy from the vendors?  The price at the Fiery Food Show is $15 as well, but free parking and of course that show has been around for 25 years, so you can see they built their brand up to excuse the price.  Zestfest might be a brand, but Zestfest Midwest is not, and believe me when I tell you that the brand carries no weight here in Columbus, Ohio.

I want to give some positives for the show, but beyond the great products represented from the vendors, there is very little to say.  Including the poorly executed Defcon Cluckwing challenge, which should have been retitled Defcon Clucknugget challange because there the show used huge chicken nuggets instead of the traditional wings.  You can tell that John Dilley was not in control of the event when he was taken off guard by the announcement of the sauce covered nuggets.  Especially after he talked about making sure the bones were clean in the rules moments before the bowl o’ nuggets were brought out.  A second bowl was brought out to those that finished the 1st.  It came down to 2 competitors, one being the Steve “The Machine” Smallwood and some other guy I don’t remember.  I have a video of the challenge, so I will give the guy his due after posting that in a few days.   Anyway, it was quite clear that the Machine finished the last nugget first, but it had to show an open mouth, when this other guy threw down his last nugget and was suddenly declared the winner without opening his maw.  The announcer Scott, interrupted saying the Machine had finished first, and John Dilley trying to stay away from conflict declared a 3rd round showdown.  This had to equal the meat of at least 2 chickens if not more.  Both guys were giving their bowls and while the Machine waited for them to announce the start of sudden death, the other guy was all ready pounding down on the nuggets.  He might have gotten 2 down before The Machine started.  It took a lot for the Machine to catch up to, but he came within a swallow of winning.  Clearly, he beat the other guy 2 times, but the prize – an 24″ HDTV – was lost to this other guy.  Not to underscore the accomplishments of the winner because it wasn’t his fault, but the Machine got ripped off and the video I post will reveal that truth.

So not too much positive for this show, other than Mike Isenberg’s cooking demo and the actual products.  Favorite new products were Ben’s Mustard’s Apple Jack Jelly, but not hot, and Spicy Rooster’s Scorpion Relish.  That relish is one of the best hot dog relishes ever created and it contains no cucumbers or pickles, just pickled peppers and carries a nice burn.  I bought me a hot dog and poured some on it.  Yum.  Announce new products, but not yet sold are the new wing sauces coming out from Patter Fam Sauces.  A nice take on the traditional Buffalo sauce flavor.  Looking forward to getting my Kickstarter soon.  Also I have to mention Chad Lowcock’s White Chocolate drink might be the biggest selling spicy product at the show.  Might be permanently rebranded as the “OMG Sauce” because many people that try it are like, Oh My Gawd!”.

Well that is it so far.  Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer, but unless today produces some incredible attendance from the hand of God, then this show might be regarded as a total disaster.  I hate to even say that because I apppreciate all that Spicy Food Productions has done in support of my spicy cooking contest.  I hope they can fix the problem for next year, because they have a 3 year contract.  Yes, omg.

11 thoughts on “Zestfest Midwest 2013 – 2 day recap

  • June 30, 2013 at 11:57 am

    As an attendee, I have to admit I was shocked at $15/day for a ticket for a ‘first annual’. The place was a ghost town though it was nice to be able to chat at length with folks.

  • June 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    We had fun with the people that did show up. We made our expenses and met some great new fans. Hope they can fix all the problems.

  • June 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    I was really surprised at how few booths there where but it was nice catching up with everyone after not attending any shows for the last few years. one of the veneers toldmethat a lot of the other vendors where not going to be there Sunday because they decided to cut their losses and go home.I really feel bad for anyone who drive any distance to see it Sunday and it’s even worse than when I was there. I don’t know the tank guy who was sitting on the end in the deathmatch but I was two spots down from him and didn’t know he was done either, ya he probably finished first but he should of stood up or something. I prefer my deathmatch with no prize so people can just have fun and enjoy the free meal like I did, without getting to serious about it. there where a lot of people at the table to watch and I think the creator did his best to judge it, it is not like he purposely screwed the guy. all that being said I had a good time hanging out with everybody. I miss my reviewing days.

  • June 30, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Great to see you again Justin. It would have been great to have hung out with you after the show. You are always welcome back to our review team anytime you want. You know how to get a hold of me.

  • July 1, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I was sitting right beside Steve and I heard the command to go on the final bowl of chicken chunks. Wasn’t sure why Steve hadn’t started eating when “GO” was announced.

  • July 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Great to see all of our sauce friends this weekend. There were a lot of disappointed people this show. The unannounced parking hike for the Kenny Chesney concert killed Saturday afternoon. No nice way to say that. Thank you for you honesty about the weekend. I feel for those that traveled to the great state of Ohio. Please don’t hold it against the public. Columbus is a great foodie town and we’ve done a number of events there and made money. There was a disconnect with the public on this one for a number of reasons. I hope they fix the communication problems – whatever they were. I love having a show in the Midwest. This was a backyard major event for us and we’d love to see it become huge. Hopefully, the future will be better for Zestfest Midwest.

  • July 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thank you Hudd. I’m tired of all the conspiracy theories when it comes to these matches. I watched the videos, from 4 different vantage points. Ed had his mouth clear, when Steve was still chewing, in the first round nonetheless. The comments from other contestants confirm this as well. I will leave it at that. I refuse to get into another sh*tstorm.

  • July 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I just noticed the Zest Fest banner says “join over 10,000 chileheads at the hottest show in Columbus”. A bit of an understatement!

  • July 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Wait, there was a show in Columbus?

  • July 1, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    yea I would say so. you would think that the number of online sales would prove that there wouldn’t be that many people. you can’t expect that large of a percentage of patrons to buy at the show.

  • July 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I didn’t hear John say GO at all on the final bowl or I would have started.I am not mad it was what it was . I even talked to John for a couple minutes at the end of the show on Sunday.If they would have been bone in wings it would have been a different story anyway lol.I still had fun at the show.

Comments are closed.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)