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Chow Chow food festival to shut down due to financial problems

An array of food highlighted at Chow Chow Food + Culture Festival.
Chow Chow
An array of food highlighted at Chow Chow Food + Culture Festival.

Chow Chow Food + Culture Festival, an annual Asheville culinary event, has come to an end. On Friday, the nonprofit hid its social media profiles and updated its website, erasing all but a written statement that read, “We here at Chow Chow have had to make the difficult and very unfortunate decision to shut down our festival and non-profit permanently.”

In an emailed statement, the organization’s board attributed the decision to “underperforming sales of our most recent festival, paired with the mounting financial and operational obstacles we have faced both post-festival and within the org as a whole over the last few years.”

The culinary festival launched in 2019 as a multi-day weekend event that aimed to celebrate Southern Appalachian food and culture. It highlighted chefs, artists, beverage connoisseurs and other makers from all over the region, and featured global talent such as Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés and James Beard-winning Appalachian food writer Ronni Lundy.

After taking a one-year hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the festival returned in 2021 with a three-month long schedule of in-person and virtual events. The event was produced by Shay & Company, a local event production company owned by Shay Brown, for the festival’s final three years.

Based on 2022 tax records, the festival had $476,409 in revenue and $503,627 in expenses, for a total loss of $27,218.

In 2023, the festival reverted to its original weekend format and tried a “Pay What You Can” equity model with the goal of including more small businesses and marginalized community members, Eater reported.

A giant paella dish in Pack Square Park at the 2019 Chow Chow festival.
Laura Hackett
A giant paella dish in Pack Square Park at the 2019 Chow Chow festival.

Chow Chow Board President Rhea Lidowksi told BPR she is heartbroken that the festival is ending.

"I've been with Chow Chow since I was a vendor in the very first year, and you won't find anyone who loves it as deeply as I do,” she said.

But the festival finances were not working out, Lidowski said.

“Pretty much every year we’ve never really gotten the return that we need or the number of sponsorships that we aspired to. We're always kind of barely making it. And this year was below barely making it, which makes it even harder for it to move forward. Maybe there is room in the future for a different Chow Chow but right now we have to take an honest moment with ourselves to step back instead of a doubling down moving forward that would most certainly land us in the same spot we are today."

The full statement reads: 

“We here at Chow Chow have had to make the difficult and very unfortunate decision to shut down our festival and non-profit permanently.

So many people, including all of you, have given so much passion and energy, beyond compare, in building something that was so special and different as a festival and gathering space, and you should all be so proud. Endless new relationships forged, conversations around tables that brought so many closer together, and all the years of excitement in celebrating our food systems, our community, and all of what makes our home so precious to us all.

We thank each and every one of you for your immeasurable talents, creativity, passion and drive to lift up this unique community that we all love and care to see thrive. May it always continue to evolve, and bring so much pride to our beloved mountain home, especially through your continued support of it. May the seed we all planted grow into so much more in the years to come.

Thank you for being a part of what made Chow Chow so special.”

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.