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Talking about Gastrofest with Gastrojax Executive Director Erin Thursby

1. What is Gastrofest? And what is Gastrojax?

Gastrofest is a festival that's all about food. There are food festivals that have other major focuses, though food will be in the name. Gastrofest aims to be a true food festival, where the focus is on the food Jacksonville has to offer. 

Gastrojax Inc., as an organization, fosters cuisine-based culture, educating the public about local food and beverage sources, local restaurants and North Florida dishes. Gastrofest is the major way we want to do that.

2. What are your goals for Gastrofest?

Through Gastrofest, we want people to get educated about what Jacksonville has to offer. Learning about local restaurants, food providers, local brewers, where and how to eat locally are all things we want people to get out of the fest. A belly full of good food is also something we'd love to offer! Local providers get exposure at a locally oriented event and the public can find these often hidden gems.

3. Who's the audience for Gastrofest?

Our audience is everybody. We want to teach kids about growing their own food; we want to teach adults about where to find local and organic produce; we want foodies to discover new restaurants. 

4. When will Gastrofest take place?

Gastrofest will be a one day event in 2015, but Gastrojax, the organization behind Gastrofest, will be promoting and participating in events to further our goals of preserving a worthwhile food-culture. After 2015 we expect Gastrofest to take place annually.

5. Do you have a location for Gastrofest?

It will take place in the downtown core of Jacksonville.

6. What's the criteria for participating in Gastrofest?

Locally produced food, especially with a sustainable angle, is more likely to be part of the fest. Restaurants should reflect our food scene. Chains are only allowed if they are part of the fabric of Jacksonville culture (a chain that's based here in Jacksonville) and we place an emphasis on using local farms as a source. We're very local-oriented, so if it's not within 100 miles, it's unlikely to be part of our fest. 

7. Will restaurants be preparing special items for Gastrofest or will they be highlighting items from their regular menus?

That's going to be up to the restaurant for the most part. We are still working on specific criteria as far as specific items are concerned.

8. Is Gastrofest modeled on another food festival or is it something entirely unique?

We are looking at a number of different models, but Jacksonville is unique, so we're going to have to gear it to Jacksonville's needs. We do want it to be accessible to the public, so we want to keep the cost down for the folks attending. People will get to taste food from different restaurants, get info on where to get local food and learn about Jacksonville's food culture.

9. In terms of structure, how does Gastrofest compare to events like Eat Up Downtown, One Spark, and food truck rallies?

Eat Up Downtown isn't a festival, though Gastrojax might do something akin to that in the future, where we partner with restaurants. One Spark wasn't a food festival, so it's a bit difficult to compare the two. As far as food truck rallies are concerned, we're going to have much more than what you'll find at those, though we do intend to have food trucks at our festival. There really isn't an event that strives to showcase the First Coast's food culture all in one big festival. 

10. How did you come up with the idea for Gastrofest?

The initial inspiration was somewhat accidental. I was talking with Cari Sánchez-Potter at Bold Bean Coffee and I mis-heard her saying that “something big is coming but I can’t talk about it.” Now, this was nowhere near what she said. But it is what I thought she said. Instantly, my mind leapt to possibilities. What it came up with was Gastrofest.

11. How does the Jacksonville food scene compare to other food scenes around the US (or abroad)?

We're very, very American. I've noticed that we're a sort of filter for food trends that have staying power. Fads take a while to get here, and they disappear quickly when they just don't wash as being tasty. We've got Southern flavor and coastal cuisine, so you've got the barbecue, the biscuits, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles. We've got an Arabic population cooking up lots of traditional flavors. Pick almost any region of the world and it's probably represented somewhere in Jacksonville. And we have some super locavore fare from dedicated chefs that are determined to elevate our food scene. Jacksonville borrows and refines food. We'll take it all as long as it tastes good. We aren't really known for a single iconic dish, though. The closest we come are our Riders.

12. What's the most under appreciated aspect of the Jacksonville food scene?

The variety that's really here. 

13. Can you tell us about your experience at One Spark?

Our goals were to raise money for incorporation (501 c3 status), for city permitting of Gastrofest, and to raise awareness about our local flavors. We got what we needed for that but, of course, we need more funding for other things, so we are reaching out to the corporate sponsors. 

The biggest feedback was: I live in this neighborhood, so please have it there! We are sticking to the core for the first year. 

14. What's the Golden Ticket and how did you win?

Void and Adjective looked through a lot of candidates. I know they visited us at our One Spark tent more than once. We're grateful and honored that we were chosen out of so many candidates. There were a lot of great ideas out there.  

The prize is for $100,000 worth of advertising, web design and media ads. That's not cash, it's a way to make sure everyone knows about Gastrofest and about Gastrojax getting started. It's invaluable to us, because getting the message out there about Jacksonville's food scene is our purpose, and the crew from Void and Adjective & Co. are going to help us do that!

15. What are you doing to get the word out about Gastrofest?

We've started with social media and One Spark. We'll take things further with the Golden Ticket through Void and Adjective & Co.  

16. What's been the reaction to Gastrofest from the food community?

Very positive. An over-arching food festival celebrating our First Coast Cuisine seems to be an idea whose time has come. Everyone is excited! 

17. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I'm the Executive Director of Gastrojax Inc. I'm also the food editor for a local entertainment newspaper.   

18. What can people do to learn more about Gastrofest?

We are on Facebook and Twitter. All our social media platforms are accessible through our website

19. What can people do to become involved with Gastrofest?

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