It’s a Fiery World!

Ken Alexander


Fiery Food Festival University

Well, it’s the time of year where school bells are ringing and kids are singing! Okay, more moaning and groaning, but nonetheless, it’s here! You have to shelve Alice Cooper “School’s Out for Summer” and dust off “Schoolhouse Rock”! And this month I wanted to talk about fiery food/hot sauce festivals, so get out your pencils, class, we’re going to school! And it will rock! (Get it? Rock? School? School of Rock!? Yea Yea Yea….I know – okay, never mind…) So what follows are some observations and opinions I’ve drawn from my experience with hot sauce and fiery food shows, and we’ll end with what in the heck does this have to do with school, or more specifically, college!

If you’ve never been to a hot sauce/fiery foods fest, you are missing out! Going to “shows” are some of my favorite times, as I get to immerse myself in my hobby, my passion, my friends, and the chilehead community and experience. I recently had the opportunity to host and emcee the Great Chicago Fiery Foods Fest in Chicago, IL. And Jeremy and Kat Walsh put on a very good party! I’ve emceed pieces of shows before and judged some competitions, but this was different. It was my responsibility to play host for an entire weekend. And while there was a lot that went into being an effective host, the coolest part for me was having the opportunity to experience a show from the inside out. From pre-show planning, to set up and tear down, I was involved in the whole process. Kind of like a human drone experience, I got to get above the trees, look around and see how everything, and everyone, fit together. It was a very very cool experience and one I hope to repeat often at different shows.

When it comes time to start preparing for an upcoming show, I love witnessing the process. The anticipation builds for weeks. The online “buzz” in the various Facebook pages mounts and grows for months. Vendors starting to plan are asking, “What products do I bring? How much of each? How much of each type do I produce? What will this cost me? How much are booths again? What’s the special festival hotel rate? What’s the expected booth traffic? Have the producers promoted the show well? Is my display unique and eye catching? Are there awards?” These are all the business decisions to warrant leaving a proven farmer’s market, or eating up a week’s vacation at the day job, etc. and invest several days of your business and personal life for a show.

From my conversation with hot sauce and fiery food makers, doing a show is a gamble, unless it’s a tried and true event. Even larger companies like CaJohn’s, with a well-known brand, a proven success formula, and a seasoned team, can lose on the gamble if no one shows up!  There are lots of vendors who are either new or haven’t attended a show before that don’t really know what to expect. A show is a huge investment, and for the most part, one you want to pay off in sales and repeat online business.  What I’ve learned in the several years I’ve been frequenting various fests, is there are so many intangibles that can’t be measured in terms of quantity, but rather the quality, of the experience. More on that in a minute.

If you’re an enthusiast, blogger, groupie, etc., like myself, you’re asking, “Who will be there? Any new vendors? How many vendors? Where is the show? What contests are they having? Is it in a cool location for extra-curricular activities? Are there social events I can attend? Are there awards? What’s the special show hotel rate? Where’s everyone staying? Can I afford the trip? Etc. etc. etc. And if you are John or Jane Q. Public, you are wondering, “What the heck is this about? An entire festival for hot sauce? Really? Is this worth my time and money to go check out? After all, it’s just different versions of Tabasco, Frank’s, and Crystal, right?”

And here’s the point: From my perspective, being a vendor, an enthusiast, or an attendee (or a host) at a hot sauce and fiery food festival is like college life. You meet and get to know all kinds of people from all kinds of places with different backgrounds, back stories, and perspectives. It is a melting pot of college majors – business, marketing, communications, psychology, art, history, sociology, and more! It is the fraternity pledge, the alumni reunion, the celebration of realizing dreams and chasing new ones. It is a vehicle for learning your craft and chasing your passion. It is realizing successes and failures and not giving up. It is fun, frustrating, exhausting, invigorating, rewarding and challenging. Sometimes it’s the School of Hard Knocks and other times an incredibly playful School of Rock. We are part of a great fraternity, a wonderful community of individuals who care about each other, and learn from each other. Being part of a festival just brings all those things together in one package, kinda like school. I’m proud to be part of Chilehead University. Party On!  Why, you ask? Because we all know, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is a Fiery World!

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Contact Ken at fi***********@gm***.com


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