Small business: Firm feasting on food obsession

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Thousands lured to tastings and chance to try offerings from top restaurants at events such as Street Eats.

Rob Eliott says events start with a vision. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Rob Eliott says events start with a vision. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Visitors to this year's Taste of Auckland festival in Victoria Park should spare a thought for the event organisers who persuade people in their thousands to come out on a busy weekend.

Rob Eliott and his company Lemongrass Productions run the festival on behalf of Brand Events UK from November 14 to 17. It's an occasion at which some of Auckland's top restaurant chefs cook for the public.

"The goal is to celebrate the top names in the industry, to celebrate excellence and give everyone a chance to try a little bit of what the best restaurants have to offer," says Eliott.

It has also become a proving ground for many small food and drink producers whose products can end up on restaurants' menus after the festival.

"A great event has the ability to make an industry look fantastic," says Eliott, who organised Taste at the Cloud during the Rugby World Cup and has had a hand in a number of international events.

"I once ran the marketing for an event in the UK called The Outdoors Show, which championed outdoor pursuits. A leading industry representative thanked us for making their industry 'look cool'." About 50,000 people attended the Birmingham event.

"An event can become an epicentre for the industry which has meaning far beyond just a four-day show."

Eliott set up on his own in April this year wanting to work on more new events.

He found some companies wanted to have occasions specific to them rather than being wrapped up with other players.

"Events start with a vision, then you begin getting the right people involved. Sponsors are very important and then you start building content," says Eliott. A new event needs an "X factor", he says.

Lemongrass has run two events in association with Heart of the City during August's Restaurant Month.

"Street Eats was one of ours, our first family-oriented event - 15,000 people coming out on a rainy Saturday at Shed 10, Queens Wharf." Chefs cooked their favourite street food. "The Winter Warm Up was also one of ours - Auckland's largest pop-up cellar door event." More than 30 wineries took up residence at Victoria Park Market for two days of tastings and talk about wine.

"What we are good at is reading what a particular audience is into and creating exciting experiences for them. The food and drink sector is hot and has come along quickly over the past few years, which is why we operate so much in that space," says Eliott.

What kicks off a new event idea, he says, is "a great pitch and a great vision".

"If you are launching something fresh, you are selling an idea to people, asking them to come on that ride.

"It's like someone buying a building off plans - they will only do it if you can back up what you say with a proven track record."

Top tip
Learn what makes the industry exciting and showcase the best of it.

Best business achievement

Street Eats _ a new concept that attracted 15,000 visitors.

- NZ Herald

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