WAVE washes over festival


    Thursday is the new Sunday for the second annual Grand Rapids International Wine & Food Festival, co-produced by the Convention & Arena Authority and Showspan Inc.

    “I think that’s one reason we expect to get more people,” said Henri Boucher, Showspan vice president.

    The inaugural event, held last November, opened on a Friday afternoon and closed on a Sunday evening. Sunday’s turnout, though, was the lowest of the three days, and that likely caused the event to run $30,000 into the red. So this time around, the festival will open Nov. 12, a Thursday, and close Saturday night.

    Another change this year is that the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Kent County Lodging Association will present their WAVE Awards as the festival’s opening event. It’s the second year the two groups have distributed the awards, which pay tribute to individuals who have represented the city as a welcoming place and promoted the hospitality industry over the past year on a daily basis as part of their jobs.

    Bureau president Doug Small said the idea to tie the award ceremony to the festival came from CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan, who made the suggestion at a festival planning session.

    “If there wasn’t an award like this, there wouldn’t be any public recognition of their service. And when I mean service, I’m talking of the economic impact that is provided through visitor traffic. These are the folks that give us that repeat business opportunity. I think the wine and food festival is just a natural tie-in,” said Small.

    The WAVE Awards honor individuals across six business categories that directly affect the industry: attraction, dining, lodging, nightlife, retail and transportation. A total of 28 persons were nominated by their employers and visitors to their businesses. The six 2009 winners are:

    • Annemarie Smartz of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in the attraction category.
    • Anthony Rhodes of Applebee’s in the dining category.
    • Apryl Sweet of Comfort Suites in the lodging category.
    • Matt Alles of Z’s Bar & Restaurant in the nightlife category.
    • Catherine Deppa of Starbucks at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in the retail category.
    • Ed Dean of Regal Limousine in the transportation category.

    The award ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, on the Meijer stage near the Steelcase Ballroom. Each winner and a guest will then be treated to a special festival three-course dinner pairing from one of the city’s top restaurants. The winners will also be nominated for a similar statewide award to be handed out next May.

    The bureau will announce its Hometown Heroes the same day, recognizing local individuals who helped bring national, state and regional meetings over the past year to the convention center.

    Small told the Business Journal that the CVB is putting together a third event to highlight and celebrate the city’s cuisine, with a goal of raising its reputation throughout the region and beyond.

    “One of the things we’re looking at is how can we tie it close to the Wine & Food Festival. So then we have, for the lack of a better term, a month-long celebration of cuisine in Grand Rapids, alongside ArtPrize and the festival.”

    The festival will feature a dozen restaurants this year. The fact that new Grand Rapids restaurants, such as 4th Street Deli, Peppino’s, Cinco de Mayo and Angel’s Thai Café, are opening during a bad economy holds value for the bureau.

    “If we’re getting restaurants to open up in this economy, it tells the city that it appreciates good food and a variety of food,” said Small.

    Small said the bureau was still putting the new event together and he wasn’t able to release any further details. He said the CVB hopes to have it up and running in time for next year’s festival.

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