It began innocently enough, three decades ago, with a street festival called Bite of Chicago. Back then, Al Silverman, who owned an Olde English joint behind the Factoria Mall called Barnaby's, smelled the bratwurst...and an opportunity; he launched a modest festival at Greenlake.
These days, Bite of Seattle, still owned by Silverman family under their corporate umbrella, Festivals, Inc, takes over Seattle Center for three days at the height of summer, feeding some half-million visitors. Most of them look well-fed to start with, which doesn't prevent them from lining up for elephant ears, funnel cakes and churros. A respected French chef like Thierry Rautureau just adds window dressing.
To make ends meet, the Silverman clan some years back sold their banner sponsorship to the single most destructive force in the restaurant industry, Groupon. With Orwellian hypocrisy, Groupon's VP for North American Sales says: "As evidenced by the awesome restaurant and food deals featured daily on Groupon, we really love food. We're very excited about our three year commitment to celebrate the amazing food, restaurants and culinary talent of the Seattle area, and we're delighted the festival supports the great work being done by Food Lifeline to give more people in Western Washington better access to nutritious food." But will Groupon renew? Oh, they renewed all right. With great enthusiasm, in fact.
Yup, Groupon has its name attached to Seattle's most bloated food event. Pass the antacids, please. And bite me.
Silverman's daugher Jody Hall runs the family business these days. "A lot has changed," she says of the changing food festival scene. T'he Nibble of Northshore is a real thing. Every day, some sort of food tasting is announced on social media, and restaurants, increasingly, are taking the initiative to promote their own places. "We were the ones doing the work in the early days, and the restaurants were happy to break even." Which explains, perhaps, why so many of the exhibitors and concessionaires aren't really restaurants at all but pop-ups, sandwich shops, and food trucks. Unlike volunteer events like Folklife, Hall has to pay for staff, and there are only two income sources: vendor fees and sponsorships. A food truck might pay $600 in rent, a vendor selling ice cream cones from a 10 by 10 tent might have to cough up $1,800; a full-on restaurant with a 20 by 20 tent as much as $3,000. In return, Bite pays for all the permits, Seattle Center overhead, even ice. Still, I've always wondered what the City of Seattle gets out of this, aside from a crowd of cheapskates swarming over the lawn at Seattle Center, stuffing themselves with unhealthy food.
And that's not the end of it. A Lasik eye surgery clinic is a sponsor? A booth selling wooden guns has a black glock for $10, an AK 47 replica for $22. These are what got Tamir Rice killed, people. Shame on you, Silvermans.