An Interview with New York City Wine and Food Festival’s John Trumble by @projectmaven

At this year’s techsytalk LIVE, which took place on August 14th, I interviewed a cross section of speakers and exhibitors, to learn more about their involvement in the event industry and new technologies. One of the day’s featured speakers was John Trumble, Managing Director of the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine and Food Festival Presented by Food & Wine (NYCWFF). Together with NYCWFF founder, Lee Schrager, John has created and curated over 120 events for this year’s festival, to take place over four days starting October 15th.

John has been with the festival since early 2013, overseeing all of their marketing, PR, sponsorship and production activity. He came to this position after leading the events marketing department at Gilt City, a digital flash sales site (think online sample sales), spearheaded by fashionistas Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis. In that position, he produced many exclusive, live experiences, including fashion shows, movie nights, pool and cocktail parties, and high end, intimate dinners featuring one of the growing numbers of celebrity chefs he would later come to work with more regularly at NYCWFF. Prior to that, John was a producer for ten years at MTV Networks.

In his current role, John helps to get the chefs onboard, as well as the talent and the right event producers. He also closely watches over ticket sales, as the NYCWFF is a 501-3c non-profit organization. All festival proceeds are donated to their partner organizations, the Food Bank for NYC, and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

I asked John what gets him most excited about his work with the Wine and Food Festival…

JohnTwo things. First, I kind of like the process of process. I’m very much a creative person, especially from my 10 years at MTV networks, but seeing the lifecycle of the festival from start to finish and seeing the things we put in place, and solving problems on the fly, I think makes you a better producer… In events, and live events especially, something’s always going to go wrong, so it’s about solving those problems in a quick, efficient, calm kind of productive manner.

And then of course, I’m a huge foodie. I love to go out to eat. I love to consume any piece of food that I can. I spent a lot of time in the rock and roll world and creative world with MTV Networks and getting into the production world in the culinary space. Chefs are the new rock stars of today. Everybody wants to get close to these guys, everyone wants to partner with them. I can’t tell you how many guys in the VC or banking world are like, I’m jumping ship to go open a restaurant with X chef. There’s a lot of people really loving the space right now.

As John continued to tell me more about how he’s working to expand the festival and diversify its market, it became increasingly clear to me how interrelated his work in the culinary space is to his prior work in the music industry.

JohnFirst and foremost, we’re kind of a mainstay in the culinary space. We’re the biggest wine and food festival in the U.S., and our core ticket buying audience is a big food geek, loves food, goes to nice restaurants, follows chefs… What I want to do is work with Lee to expand the festival a little bit and maybe put a little more of a lifestyle focus or filter on some of these events. You know, we’ve expanded into other events and partnerships like our Jets and Chefs Tailgate Party, which is a big partnership with the Jets. We basically throw a big tailgate party on the roof of Pier 92. That partnership is great because it brings in a whole other set of ticket buyers for us.

People talk about recipes and cooking being generational, I’ll tell you what, the only thing that may be more generational and in the fiber of somebody’s being and family is sports and athletic team allegiance. These guys that are tailgating outside the Giants and Jets stadium are people who have been doing that for years and years and years with their mom and dad, their grandmother and grandfather, where their grandma would make her famous potato salad – those recipes are generational, so it’s a really cool kind of hook.

Music is another one of those things that really brings people together, without sounding too cliched, whether it’s a great moment in your life or a bad moment in your life, or a very stressful moment, there’s always this soundtrack to your life, and I think that food and music kind of very much pair together in those types of things.

Under John’s leadership, the NYCWFF is integrating technology in very interesting ways. At last year’s festival, they partnered with our friends at ClearHart to use the Savor Band. This wearable NFC device gives guests the opportunity to easily swipe recipes and other information into their own personal database, as well as cast votes for different chefs and their food. This type of interactivity also offers great opportunities for the event organizers to measure ROI while tracking attendee behaviors.

Pushing the envelope of industry innovation even further, this year NYCWFF is introducing a brand new event in conjunction with Bloomberg LP, called FOODi: Food, Business and Technology.

JohnWhat we’re doing is bringing together the best thought leaders out there in the culinary and tech investing space and having, much like techsytalk, kind of a power discussion on what’s going on. We have people like Danny Meyer, Martha Stewart, Tyler Florence and Charlie Walk from Republic Records, so we’re really getting together a bunch of power players and thought leaders in their field to really talk about disruption, where you bring in other disciplines and see where they can disrupt your field and bring in new ideas.

We have three panels; one of the panels is a discussion… because the margin in restaurants is so small, the difference between making it and shuttering your doors is like a percentage point. If we can take two Bloomberg analysts who do nothing but look at numbers all day and are paid to make other people make more money, we’re going to pair those people with a restaurant group and see how they can analyze their numbers and add a percentage point to their bottom line. And then we have a FOODi challenge where we’ve done a several month search for submissions, almost like our own version of a Sharktank panel with a culinary filter on it. It’s pretty cool.

And by the way, submissions are still being accepted for the FOODi Challenge until September 14th. If you have a unique business idea related to the hospitality industry, and would like a chance to pitch it to a panel of experts, you can find more information and a submission form here. Note: FOODi is by invite only, unless you submit something and your submission gets picked, and then you will be able to present.

Operating in such a high profile public forum has given John access to many levels of innovation within the event and hospitality industries. He predicts big changes to come, even in the next 3-5 years, as VC investments continue to support industry disruption via the backing of new and exciting ideas. He believes the collision of the food business and technology will lead to improved restaurant reservation apps and other services. Imagine being able to pay in advance, or have your food and drink preferences or dietary restrictions retained by your favorite restaurant, even shared within a group of restaurants. We’re talking the kind of elevated dining experience where you arrive and find your drink waiting for you, just the way you like it, or a bottle of your favorite wine already chilling on the table. Seems like we are preparing for a whole new level of dining experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

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