Posted by: Jeffsayyes | February 17, 2015

Viva La Comida 2014 wrap-up

Thanks for all your support of Viva La Comida. For the past 3 years, this event was designed as a showcase for local businesses, small businesses, local flavor, and the people of Queens. The dream was to have a festival full of local legends of street food, aiming for Jackson Heights, uniting on 82nd Street and creating a well-rounded show for all people. In varying ways, I believe we did do that. The 1st year the craziest where, with only a small street closed off, we overwhelmed the block to show that there was support, the 2nd year with the realest street vendors, and in the 3rd year the most complete as far as all-around entertainment.

The first two years it was mostly the street food vendors of the city-abroad to supply the food and flavor;  but in this last year the restaurants and businesses on 82 really stepped up. They saw how much potential this event was, and they totally went with it more than I could have expected. From Coatzingo to Sabor Ecuatoriano Bakery to the new Peruvian chifa restaurant, they showed really well and possibly even outshone the vendors, I loved that.

Edits to this year was that I finally charged the vendors. It was controversial that I didn’t charge the vendors in the past, but truly my heart always said no.  A big part of it was to regard the vendors as entertainment, to acknowledge that they were the reason people were coming to the area. It was especially brave for the BID to agree to this, as it wasn’t me who was answering to the organization’s stakeholders, I just wanted to put on a good show. This year, we charged them a small fee – basically just they would take it seriously and show up. They needed some skin in the game.

After going to the Atlantic Antic last year, I saw probably the best street fair in NYC, probably more than just NYC. It totally humbled me and made me think Viva was just a thin being. In their 40th year, Antic had so many vendors, mixing local restaurants, local vendors, with a minority of typical vendors like mozzarepas. It worked harmoniously and gave people the choice. There was one main stage, but there were also bands playing on just about every block. And the beer! Beer was flowing and people were even taking it to the streets. I loved how the Transit Museum had a display of buses from the years (making their own adjacent festival there), and also the police having a booth showing off their equipment. Great vibes all around.

IF we were to do it again, we’d have to do it much larger. Since 82nd Street is a narrow street, we’d have to also take over 83rd Street and the Manuel Del Dios Triangle. It could be a true Viva La Comida if we incorporated many more food vendors. This year was tough with that, with the increased presence of the restaurants (which I loved), we had to thread the needle with how many street vendors and what type of vendors were brought in. Unfortunately, we had 3 no-shows, which was a pretty big percentage of our Latin American vendors (one had a permit issue, the other two I am still trying to figure out why they didn’t come).

 

————–The Festival————

People seemed to like this event better than all other ones, satisfaction all around. It wasn’t chaos like I always hope for, but it was very comfortable. I think people had a great time because we had so much going on, from the magic shows, to the hula hoops, to the RC Cars, to the music, food, dancing, and more, it was a day you could walk around and new things were happening all the time. For these activities, Seth and Sofia from the BID largely drew from the community and the entertainers they had hired during the year for programming at the Manuel Del Dios Triangle during the summer.

There were kids activities like coloring, drum teaching. If the kids are happy, we are all happy.

Loved having the Magician. Everyone loves magic. I would have magic at every event I do if I could. This magician was especially good because his show was done without language. Anyone from any country could be entertained by him.  Here is Master Magician Angelo Bermeo:

Aren’t murals such a waste if no one is there to watch it? We had a demo last year, and we were lucky to have a big one this year as well. It’s great to watch the process.

Loved the RC car demo. A big part of them being there was to draw people in. I knew they would want a street to do their thing on, and the attention. I knew that the sounds of the RC cars would draw people in. It brought me back to when I was eight and my brother was into RC cars. We were lucky that Good Guy Hobbies was right down the block – I’d been wanting to work with them for a long time, but consider it nearly impossible to get a street or even a park space closed off for such an activity.

Hula Hoop contest was great. It was something I’d been dreaming about for a year. I wanted it to be kids and adults competing against each other, but it turned out to be just kids. That’s okay because a few were REALLY good. I actually had no idea people could hula hoop for more than 10 minutes, but these 2 girls were hula hooping for way over 15 minutes. So much so that I was getting in trouble that the musical acts were waiting to go on. The finalists were so cute, it was two girls from the neighborhood, neither more than 8 years old. They were so skilled.

If I were to do that again (and I totally would), I’d have the band start playing after 10 minutes of the competition. Also would try to get more adults to compete, and maybe obstacles like water spraying and confetti to make the game go quicker. I can’t find a picture of the actual contest, but here’s a girl practicing:

——- And the vendors ——–

Very happy to have Potala Fresh Momos cart again. It has always been a delight to work with the Himalayan community. They did very well, as always. Everybody loves momos.

Funny how the Arepa Lady continued to garner such lines. They had just opened their new place a month or two beforehand, so this was great PR for the restaurant. This year, again we put her in the furthest spot and still the lines were extremely long, maybe 40+ deep. People were waiting for over an hour for an arepa. I said to my friend, “You know you could just walk 5 blocks and get it from the store, right?”  He then told me that he didn’t care, he wanted to have the experience. Which is really interesting. Here, I learned that people love lines. People want to be a part of something. Also, lines at food festivals work because it gives you a chance to rest between bites. If you just got what you want, when you want, where would the accomplishment be?

Mysttik Masaala did better in 2013. I believe this was because the owner, Yuvaraaj, is the lifeblood of this business and the biggest appeal of the cart. People love talking to him and seeing his smiling face welcome people to the cart. He couldn’t make the event and instead had his employees sell. As a result, people were less enthused. It only reinforced my enthusiasm for owner-present businesses.

There was a bit of conflict of interest with the street vendors who normally sell food on 82nd Street from shopping carts. While I truly love the ladies selling tamales and chuzos, the fact is that although they have licenses to sell, they don’t have permits and approved vehicles, so we couldn’t officially have them at the festival. How we were set up was that all the vendors had their own permits, which relieved us of having to go through the red tape for selling food. I had a heavy heart telling them that they couldn’t sell, because I was very concerned about the Department of Health arriving in swift moves of disregard as they are want to do on such high profile occasions (See Vendy Awards and the opening of Arrogant Swine). If these ladies were hit with fines and had their items confiscated, I would feel incredibly guilty, but also I was afraid of what I or some other street vendor-loving people might do. When dogged by the girls (who offered to pay to be a part of it), I told them that I wouldn’t say whether they could or could not sell – they would do as they wished but I couldn’t take the heat for them if the popo come down on them. Well, they sold, and they sold A LOT. They were very happy, and them having a successful day made me very happy and relieved. It’s amazing, the fortitude to sell on Roosevelt Avenue and 82nd Street. Through so many incidences here with the authorities, the vendors are still there every day, they will not be stopped. They always come back. Wherever you are, I encourage you to spend a dollar whenever you have the inkling at a tamale or chuzo lady.

Mamas Food: I had no idea how they would do. This was actually a vendor we had from the first Viva La Comida, who we found selling closer to her home in her new cart in Flushing. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how would people take to squid tentacles, but alas they loved it. They surprised me so much. It just affirms it: people love things on sticks.

Happy to have an Ecuadorian cart there (it was NOT EASY to get one to come). While selfishly I loved how their food was represented, I’m afraid they did not make as much as a normal day on Warren St & Roosevelt. I believe the main hole in that front was not having someone to advertise and approach people on the street. When we had people standing with them and showing people the way of the Ecuadorian cart, people were much more willing to buy.

Interesting how the Italian sausage truck did just okay. To me, they were one of my favorites but it may have been the wrong crowd, just like how the Chipper Truck may have been too ethnic for the crowd last year. Also, for the foodies, the truck may have been too typical and they thought it was a normal, filler truck you’d see at every other festival. Nope, it was there for a reason – I stand firm that D’Angelos Sausage & Peppers Truck is one of the best.

It would have been great to utilize the Chiva Bus more. We had them make a grand entrance down 82, but that was by far the best part of them being there – after that, there just wasn’t much to do. People could visit the truck, but if the bus isn’t moving and there’s no drinks to be had, it just isn’t as fun. Next year it should travel around the block with a big banner, proclaiming Viva La Comida!, so people inside can act up for those outside, and people outside can gawk.

I’ve replayed the event hundreds of times in my head. There is just much potential in here with engaging the people, and this neighborhood has so much flavor and content and challenges. I really do love engaging people. I’m happy we gave the people somewhere fun and fulfilling to be right in our backyard – We have so much, this should happen much more often.

Thanks for the support. Will I continue to be involved the event? I do not know. The director I worked with has gone to NoHo, and I need some added awesomeness to make it worth it for me. I believe the 82nd Street Partnership does intend to do another festival, so we shall see…

All photos courtesy Danilda Izquierdo

Thanks Seth and Sofia for running this show with me. Thanks Danny Dromm for the support.


Responses

  1. Want to thank you for what you put into this community. It makes a difference, A huge difference. I remember the event that you put on in the food court at the mall in Flushing-that was so much fun too.


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