Food-festival backers hope to create large yearly event

Clint Jolly hopes Reno's first weeklong celebration of local eateries an idea that took several years to come to reality one day becomes the region's next big special event.

Reno Bites, which kicks off next Monday and runs through Oct. 28, is a seven-day celebration of food created at locally owned restaurants. Jolly and Natasha Bourlin of Passport PR teamed to create the food festival similar to popular annual culinary events in larger metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Seattle.

Jolly says 15 restaurants signed on for the inaugural event. The eateries will create special menu items and highlight signature dishes and food pairings during Reno Bites. Jolly says he proposed the idea to local eateries a few years ago, but the weak economic climate of northern Nevada pushed the event back a few years.

"The timing was not right two years ago it was tough for everyone," says Jolly. "This year, it seems like food service is picking up some steam, and thing are getting a little busier, so it just made sense.

"All major metropolitan areas San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Miami they all do a weeklong celebration of food," he adds. "The one thing they all have in common is that they get a talented culinary crew together to create a community event.

Participants in the inaugural event include Bistro 7, Burger Me, Campo, Composition Cafe, Gold 'N Silver Inn, Gourmelt Grilled Cheese Truck, Imperial Bar & Lounge, Men Wielding Fire, Old Granite Street Eatery, PFPCo's Noble Pie Parlor, SoDo, Un Caffe Italian Bistro and Wet Hen Cafe.

Getting all the restaurants to understand the concept and to lay aside their normal competitive posturing proved slightly difficult, Jolly says.

"It was kind of a mixed bag; some people got it right away, while some took a little more convincing. People who had restaurant experience in other cities understood it right away."

The goal of the event, Jolly says, is twofold. Working together to enhance Reno's culinary scene creates a much stronger culinary community, he says. The second goal is to promote Reno as a food destination as the event builds steam in subsequent years.

"Reno has got some really good talent, and it's time to let everyone know about it," Jolly says. "I don't think we will ever be first-class foodie destination like San Francisco or Seattle, but we definitely can be a second-tier food city and pull people from California, Oregon and Utah. If we work together, we can create something better instead of fighting to survive.

Also, Jolly says, the increased exposure the restaurants receive can spur locals to eat out more often and provide a much-needed boost in revenues.

Eventually, Jolly says, the event may branch out to include establishments in Carson City and Lake Tahoe. He's hoping to snare sponsorship dollars from local tourism and government organizations to help promote future Reno Bites events.

Bourlin says her goal for Reno Bite's first year is to work out the kinks and define the event. Next year, she'll pursue media coverage in outside markets to help promote the event and tell Reno's story about its culinary offerings.

"We want to see what sticks and what is well received," Bourlin says. "Next year it is my intention to go after earned media, unless we did get some local financial support. I'll try to showcase some of the more innovative restaurant concepts we have here in our own community, as well as tout what sets some of the older staples out from the crowd.

"I'll look for those angles and do my best to create a solid message about our foodie community. We do have a burgeoning culinary community that is noteworthy nationally, and events like Reno Bites will help illustrate that."

David Stern, executive chef for SoDo at 275 Hill Street in Reno, says Reno Bites is a great way for participating restaurants to gain exposure and create a sense of camaraderie amongst the area's independently owned eateries.

Stern will be one of eight local chefs to participate in a Iron Chef-style cooking competition at South Downtown Restaurant and Bar on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. Each chef will start with a stocked pantry and a secret ingredient and create a dish to be judged.

The event is free to the public.

"Not only does it get people exposed to our restaurants, but they also get to see and talk to the other chefs involved," Stern says. "We are trying to get the chefs to utilize that time to advertise themselves and talk about what they are doing and get people to know who they are."


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