The Philadelphia Cheesesteak and Food Festival will return for a second year, Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, with a new name and a few tweaks to its formula. Is that enough this time around to keep cheesesteak lovers satisfied?
When the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival (its former name) was announced last year, many asked why it took so long for a food so tied to Philadelphia's identity to get its own culinary celebration.
"That's what we wanted to know, because it seemed like such a no-brainer," said David Feldman Sr., the entrepreneur who with his son, David Feldman Jr., created last year's festival, as well as this year's expanded program.
"Everybody loves cheesesteaks. I love cheesesteaks. What could go wrong?" asked David Feldman Sr., whose son created Elite Event Management Group. Together, they built and managed other mass local tasting soirees, such as 2014's family-oriented Philly Fest at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester.
The Feldmans thought that hosting a cheesesteak party for more than 25,000 attendees - way more than they first expected - would be a breeze.
They weren't ready for the crush, and the first year's location, Lincoln Financial Field, wasn't equipped to handle a food-festival crowd. Angry ticket-buyers jumped on social media, calling out organizers for too-long lines and too-few cheesesteak samples. It wasn't worth the ticket price, they said.
"We simply didn't think we would be that busy, even though all vendors knew to be on their toes," Feldman Sr. said. "We weren't prepared for the onslaught, I guess. How could we be?"
The Feldmans were also unprepared for a fight with their one-time marketing contractors, Kevin and Raymond Baxter of Baxter & Associates. They wanted to not only hold their own meat festival, but also to copyright the name Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival.
George Polgar, a representative of Baxter & Associates, said that all parties have settled their differences amicably and that his clients have maintained the trademark rights to the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival name. They are planning their own cheesesteak festival debut, to be announced soon.
"I wish them well with their festival and hope they wish us well with ours," said Feldman Sr. "There are plenty of cheesesteaks to go around and plenty of cheesesteak eaters."
How is this year's festival responding to last year's criticism?
- More than 50 vendors will tend to a purposefully smaller crowd. "We want a win-win for everyone - vendors, attendees, us - and for all who are eating to leave with a smile on their face and their bellies full," Feldman said.
- Ticket prices are lower than last year's, starting at $20 (although buying the lowest-priced ticket means you have to purchase sample vouchers inside. The $40 and $65 levels come with sample vouchers).
- Parking is also included this year, unlike last year, a major complaint of festivalgoers.
- The festival will expand from cheesesteaks to other Philly favorite foods, so Philly Pretzel Factory will provide knotted salty dough, Primo Hoagies will bring its Italian specialty sandwiches, and Rita's will serve water ice.
- Yes, there will be a massive cheesesteak-eating competition. No word yet as to what its eating criteria will be or what prizes will be given.
- The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival mascot, Cheesy, will be on hand with an updated outfit, along with his friend the Phillie Phanatic.
- Every eat-a-thon needs a munch-worthy soundtrack, and this Philly food fest finds its background noise in Robert Eric's tribute to the "Piano Man" with Billy Joel covers and the rousing R&B of the Sensational Soul Cruisers.
Philly Cheesesteak and Food Festival Noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Citizens Bank Park, 1 Citizens Bank Way. $20 to $65 (VIP), cheesesteakfest.com