Like everyone we’re on the lookout for the best nosh when we go to Festivale, northern Tasmania’s premier celebration of food and alcohol. But we also go with our gourmet food stall-holder hats on. What’s selling? For how much? Is it worth the vendor’s while being there?
As veterans now of three markets and numerous major events in the calendar year where you can set up a food stall and pitch your fare at the punters, we cast a weathered (if still lamentably un-businesslike) eye on what’s around and have a slightly different perspective than when we just turned up looking for the prize winning plates.
We’re looking at how each stall is doing. On a very simple level, are they busy? Is there a swarm of hungry diners around them buying up big. How many staff do they have? How much equipment? How many products? Are they keeping it simple or offering a small menu? How much pre-prep have they done and how much are they prepping and cooking on site? How much stuff are they having to transport to the event and set up, and how much time is it all taking to come together?
The dessert stall was doing a roaring trade. Ranks of shivering blancmanges lined up and marched out to the tune of ten bucks a pop. More ranks of them lined up in kit form on an assembly table behind the serving staff. That table was attended by a chef and two others. The fridges and storage were top shelf chrome and glass. All of that chrome-ware and those people have to be paid for. The stall fee has to be paid and at Festivale that doesn’t come cheap. A stall like this would have to make thousands before they went into profit. No wonder the Creme Brulee was ten bucks. You have to bear in mind it was also delicious and delivered to my eager little hand in City Park. They brought it here for me specially!
Some of the businesses there are owned by couples or families who likely work the stalls themselves to avoid having to pay staff, just as we do. They may not even pay themselves in the traditional sense. They might not even be looking to make a profit. Businesses in their early stages are often there simply to get their name known. On the punters’ side of the counter it’s a festival for the taste buds. On the other side it’s planning, graft, expense, logistics and sweat.
Many’s the time Oliver and I have reflected that the best product of all for a market stall is coffee. No doubt coffee vendors would tell it differently, but from what we see, they’re onto a good thing. There’s not much pre-prep – maybe you’re grinding beans and stocking up on paper cups and other accoutrements. And perhaps you’ve shelled out for a cute little caravan to vend from and a workhorse coffee machine. Once that’s done, if you’re selling a coffee every thirty seconds at four bucks, that’s $480 per hour. In four hours your Festivale stall fee is paid off. After that, you’ve got two more days in which to pay for staff and go into profit. I bet the margins aren’t high and there are costs I haven’t considered, but you’ve also imprinted your business identity onto the minds of impressionable and coffee-hungry Launcestonites who are coming to love a chic and well-branded cafe experience and will be doggedly loyal when they find your permanent premises in town. Fair play to Sweetbrew and other coffee vendors. They have what looks like a great business and they’re bringing a buzz to Launceston, and it’s not just the coffee.
For the boutique alcohol companies, with their organic ciders, their naturally fermented ales and world class cool climate wines, Festivale is a vital step in becoming a known name in the Tasmanian drinks scene. Willie Simpson and Catherine Stark of Seven Sheds Brewery and Meadery, and Jane Huntington of Two Metre Tall Farmhouse Ale & Cider both attest to this. In their earlier years this was easier, as there was less competition. ‘When we first came to Festivale there were only four breweries,’ recalls Willie. Now the place is awash with boutique beers and purveyors thereof, as is the island and indeed many parts of the globe. For Jane, this means looking at other means expanding, bigger events on the farm which will draw people from the mainland. Party in the Paddock, the weekend after Festivale, has just managed this admirably, with music and party lovers coming from Melbourne for the chilled-out Tassie vibe.
So much to eat, photograph, drink and enjoy at Festivale. I laughed so hard at contortionist Ruby Rubberlegs, my children gave me disapproving looks. And much to glean from chatting to other business owners – truly a great recharge for our gourmet foodie batteries in thinking about how to expand and diversify our small farm business, and better share the great Tasmanian life with visitors. Bring on next year, I’m thirsty already!