You could hear the drumbeat for fried drumsticks building. People in New Orleans love to talk about food, and last week much of that talk brought up the Fried Chicken Festival. The event, which debuted Sunday (Sept. 25), sparked tremendous interest and anticipation.
It also drew a crowd that wildly exceeded what producers of the new festival had expected. The venue, Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans, was swamped. Lines stretched so far back from the fried chicken vendors arrayed around the square that it was sometimes hard to discern where they actually began.
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On Monday, just a day later, the group behind the festival announced plans to hold the next Fried Chicken Festival in a larger venue, double its duration to two days and add more vendors.
“We wanted to let folks know we acknowledge that there are areas we can improve upon,” said Cleveland Spears, CEO of the Spears Group, the local firm that conceived and produced the Fried Chicken Festival.
While the Spears Group was planning for about 20,000 people, on Monday it pegged attendance at 40,000, an estimate based on analysis from festival consultants working on the event.
Spears wouldn’t speculate on the next location for the festival, but he said it was clear the festival needs more space and more vendors and a better approach to logistics from his own team. Still, he sees the bigger-than-expected turnout as an endorsement of the festival’s underlying idea.
“While we welcome all the constructive feedback we’re seeing and hearing, one thing undeniable is that the public likes the concept and that it has a huge growth potential,” Spears said.
He said the next Fried Chicken Festival will be held around the same time of year, though the precise date will likely depend on football schedules for fall 2017.
Fried chicken gets people fired up, and so did the news that New Orleans would have a new fe…
Sunday’s festival had free admission, with 28 vendors selling a mix of traditional and offbeat fried chicken dishes, along with other food and drink. Local bands performed on stage. The nonprofit culinary training programs Café Reconcile and Liberty’s Kitchen each received a $5,000 contribution from the festival producers, and renowned New Orleans chef Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was presented with the festival’s first Culinary Icon Award.
Meanwhile, a panel of judges picked winners for food awards. Jazz City Café, a Chalmette eatery, won the award for “Best Use of Chicken in a Dish” while “Best Fried Chicken” honors went to the Original Fiorellas’ Café.
The brothers Calcie and Kelly Fiorella earlier this year opened the Original Fiorellas’ Café in Gentilly. It's the continuation of a restaurant their father C.J. Fiorella started the French Quarter in the 1980s.
Kelly Fiorella said the win was a huge boost for the new restaurant, and a matter of immense family pride since their chicken recipe was developed by their father a generation ago. During the nine-hour festival, the Fiorella brothers sold 2,600 pieces of chicken, two-pieces to an order.
“It was intense, we were staring at lines 50-people deep the whole time,” Fiorella said. “We would have sold more, but we ran out and had to send someone off to get more chicken. The key for next time is to be prepared and stay ahead of the game.”
Fried chicken is a dish that takes some time to prepare, and the fryers and oil for two-dozen or more vendors adds to the logistical complexities. But Spears, encouraged by the response to the first run for the Fried Chicken Festival, said he’s confident the event will find the right recipe.
“If fast food restaurants can do it with drive through windows, we know our festival can do it,” Spears said. “We just need a larger footprint to spread out the crowd, and two days and more vendors to spread out the demand.”