Every year for four days in February the national media, wine lovers and foodies turn their full attention to South Beach. The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine is the hottest ticket in town.
A collaboration between FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and Southern Wine & Spirits, the festival is a four-day, star-studded event held at more than a dozen venues throughout the beach. The culinary extravaganza benefits the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and, to date, has raised more than $18 million for the School and the new Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center at Biscayne Bay Campus.
The 2014 SOBEWFF, which kicks off Feb. 20, features 70 seminars, parties and dinners. During the last 15 months, every detail has been ironed out by a team of event planners who include more than 50 alumni and 12 FIU interns. In the weeks leading up to SOBEWFF, FIU News followed Panthers working in all aspects of the festival, including marketing, public relations, logistics and accounting. To see an example of one of our student leaders, check out this video.
The festival began as a one-day event known as the Florida Extravaganza held at the Biscayne Bay Campus. For five years, from 1997-2001, the Florida Extravaganza showcased wines from national and international wineries paired with food from local restaurants and chefs working with hospitality students. In 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, then director of special events and media relations at Southern Wine & Spirits, took the reigns of the festival and relocated it to South Beach.
The festival’s sponsorship and ticketing director, Ashley Shapiro ’07, is part of the core team that helped make the festival what it is today. In 2005, she pursued her master’s at the School of Hospitality specifically to intern for SOBEWFF.
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount in every role that I’ve had here – which is a lot,” she says. “When I was an intern I was running the auctions as an auction intern. Then I came on board and I helped to actually produce the first kid program – Fun and Fit as a Family. For five years, I was the event manager and producer of that. Today, I’m the sponsorship and ticketing director.
“What’s great is that the festival allows you to learn all aspects of event managing and pick what makes the most sense for you and which you thrive in and do it.”
School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumnus and marketing intern Enrique Torres ’12 created the wine tasting and lifestyle books that will be handed out at this year’s festival. He’s also responsible for the festival’s immediate design needs, including Sobefest.com.
Torres says the internship has helped him work more efficiently. “It’s extremely fast-paced. It’s really helped me sharpen my skills and ready me for the job market.”
In addition to interns and alumni who work full time on the festival, more than 1,000 FIU students participate in the Student Associate Program. The student coordinators work alongside renowned chefs and manage many of the logistics for the events. See their stories in a 2012 video produced by FIU News.
Ticketing intern Teddy Rood started as a student coordinator. After handling HR needs – hiring, recruiting and training students – for the Student Associate Program, Rood wanted to play an even bigger role with the festival. The program’s manager, Richard Lopez, forwarded his resume to the festival. Rood was immediately chosen for the paid internship.
“Getting to come in every day and work alongside such bright and creative people that really make up the backbone of one of the biggest festivals in the world, it’s just been an unbelievable experience you can’t get anywhere else.” Rood says. “This is solely FIU. This solely an opportunity FIU students can get.”
FIU News will follow these and many more Panthers during the four days of the festival, Feb. 20-23. Check back in a couple of weeks to see the inside story of the nation’s largest and most popular wine and food event.