The Savour Food & Wine Festival in Halifax has grown from one event to six in just over 15 years.
Gordon Stewart, executive director for the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, can’t believe how far they’ve come.
“We have so many components. We have Dine Around, which promotes restaurants and allows them to put out three-course meals at different price points. People get to try new restaurants,” he said.
Then we have Imbibe, which is all about cocktails and new trends. It shows off the different cocktail makers from bars around town.”
When it comes to events, they also have two more alcohol-themed events tailored for different audiences.
“We have the Rare & Fine Wine show, which is our smallest but fastest selling event. It’s all about premium wines that aren’t available in the province. We also have the Craft Beer Cottage Party, which is about recognizing craft brew in town,” he said.
“There are tons of beer, a wide cross-section, and it allows for so many experiences. It skews younger, and there’s a ton of plaid and tartan at this event.
There is also Decadence, which is delectable for sweets lovers.
“It’s about desserts and pairing. It used to be primarily chocolate, but there’s wine and cheese mostly now, with a range of desserts after,” he said.
Finally, there’s the main Savour show, which boasts 80 exhibitors within the event.
“We have 60 per cent restaurants and 40 per cent distillers. We have wine and beer, and people can dine and have fun,” he said.
“With all these events in February and March, it’s an amazing spread of weeks for food and drink here.”
A festival that began 16 years ago with one event has grown exponentially each year, and Stewart says 2019 may be the best yet.
“It has grown even from last year. All the events sold out last year, and it was our largest year for ticket sales,” he said.
“This year, we have a fantastic turn-out for exhibitors for all the shows, and we are even ahead of last year.”
Stewart says the association makes things easy on the exhibitors, which helps them to feel comfortable at the events.
“We don’t have fees for them to pay, and we provide tables, plates and glasses. The exhibitors bring goods and we provide the environment. There’s actually pressure for us to do more events,” he said.
Stewart is clear they couldn’t do any of these events without the help of volunteers.
“All of us meet for more than seven months, and this is such a big job. Volunteers are the back-bone of all of this, and we are so pleased to have people get involved,” he said.
The association itself also gives money to the IWK and has Feed Nova Scotia help them.
“The IWK is given money and Feed NS actually does our coat-check and keeps the money raised there,” he said.
“The IWK is something Atlantic Canada-wide for women and children, and it touches all of our hearts. The food bank is also so important, and we are in the food business. We must help those who have issues buying food.”
Surveys about the events are always overwhelmingly positive.
“People and exhibitors are surveyed after events, and consumers are always extremely positive. They give an average of over 90 per cent as a rating, based on food, beverages and service,” he said.
“Exhibitors like our events and how we help, as things are quite streamlined and turn-key for them. They don’t have to worry, but just showcase what they have.”
Stewart says it’s an honour to represent the food that comes out of Nova Scotia.
“This is a big thing for us, and Nova Scotia has a great culinary landscape. We tackled this for February, which is the slowest month of the year in the industry,” he said.
“People go to restaurants and sometimes don’t really vary, so this allows people to check out so much and try new things.”
The Dine Around event goes from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28, Imbibe is on Feb. 7, the Rare & Fine Wine Tasting is Feb. 15 and the Craft Beer Cottage Party goes Feb. 16.
The main show is Feb. 28, and Decadence finishes things off on March 7.
Information on tickets and pricing can be found on the Savour Food & Wine Festival website.