Festival director Ally DeArman remembers a very different Eat Real Fest than the one taking place this weekend in Jack London Square. But back in 2009, even if the food festival's attendance wasn't this one's expected 75,000 or more, the principles were much the same. That's thanks to ambitious food entrepreneur Anya Fernald (Belcampo Meat Co.) who founded the festival on the heels of her month-long Slow Food Nation festival. According to DeArman, Fernald simply "wanted to bring that to her neighborhood," which is of course Oakland.
"The idea," DeArman explains, "was to make a big food event that wasn't a high ticket price (entry is free) and where you get little bites from famous chefs. Instead, it was about the idea that you could eat well — eat good food — at smaller, more local and accessible and affordable places."
As she recalls, "2009 was the year that food trucks were kind of on the scene. But now it's less of a street food event. With Off the Grid happening three times a day around the Bay Area it's less of a novelty. So these days we're really moving the emphasis to artisans, and small-batch craft vendors handmade food."
Part of the festival's emphasis on small food entrepreneurs has recently led DeArman and Fernald to a new development: The Food Craft Institute.
In DeArman's words, the "Food Craft institute is a nonprofit educational resource for the food community. With Eat Real Fest, it was the cart before the horse, and the nonprofit actually grew out of Eat Real. We really started to see a need among the vendors and entrepreneurs: They started their business out of passion but didn't know how to do financials or write a business plan. We'd see people coming back [to Eat Real Fest] the next year with a lot of success and we'd see people coming back without a lot of success."
These days, the Instute offers structured, hands-on courses taught by a combination of expert food makers, owners of successful food businesses, andmarketing and business consultants. Conveniently, says DeArman, "the instructors that we have teaching our courses are partners we work with at the festival — Magnolia brewing, and Llano Seco and Belcampo and Linden Street Brewing — and the students that take their courses and are able to support [students] by giving them a venue to launch their products."
One example: Harmonic brewing, which just launched in the Dogpatch, and will now be on tap at the festival's beer shed. Another, Crooked City Cider, also took Food Craft Institute classes, and she's going to be on tap in the new-this-year Cider Saloon.
Last: Two things to keep in mind as you head to Jack London square to get your food fix. First, it's going to be hot. Really hot. Second,as DeArman explains, "a big customer question and desire is for a map of the vendors. But we don't release a map because it changes minute by minute."
That's part of the excitement, but for guidance, there's always Yelp. Yes, that Yelp. "Yelp will have a booth on site so they'll be the info station, and they'll be a concierge," DeArman explains. "You can also follow hashtag #erf2015 and that will keep you on target."
And, if you're feeling nostalgic for the Eat Real Fest of past — and/or you just want to beat the heat, here's a final tip. Try Fat Face popsicles. "They took the very first business course we ever offered and have come back ever year," DeArman says proudly. "They say it's their biggest event."
EAT REAL FEST
JACK LONDON SQUARE
SEPTEMBER 18 to 20, 2015
FRIDAY 1:00PM - 9:00PM
SATURDAY 10:30AM - 9:00PM
SUNDAY 10:30AM - 5:00PM