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That's a Wrap on the Perfect Pairing: SOBEWFF® 2024 and FIU
Paws up for SOBEWFF® and FIU Bacardi Center of Excellence volunteers at the FIU tents on the sand.

That's a Wrap on the Perfect Pairing: SOBEWFF® 2024 and FIU

Festival allows for amazing opportunities for FIU students and alumni

March 4, 2024 at 4:00pm

Tears of joy streamed down Vanessa Cheng’s face as she praised the group of smiling students surrounding her on the sand at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®. The Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management senior supervised dozens of other students. Now with the 23rd annual Festival over, Cheng is thankful she had the opportunity to lead other students and take part in one of the largest wine and food festivals in the world. 

"I could not imagined having such a great team," Cheng said. "Everyone was so positive, and everyone worked so hard. I really appreciated it." 

53556090080_78f2f28b0a_c.jpgVanessa Cheng, second from right, and her fellow student coordinators and leads with Food Network's Guy Fieri.

An Experience of a Lifetime
Cheng is one of the more than 1,500 student volunteers who gained hands-on learning experience at the 23rd annual Festival while earning scholarship. Many had roles leading events and logistics teams, conducting walk-throughs to make sure volunteers were in place to greet and help guests, working behind-the-scenes in inventory control, helping to prepare the thousands of servings of food enjoyed by guests, serving as guest services representatives and working alongside Food Network personalities. The relationships built at the Festival lead to long-lasting friendships, employment opportunities and, for many, becoming part of the Festival planning and execution team in the future.

Paws up for SOBEWFF® and FIU Bacardi Center of Excellence volunteers at the FIU tents on the sand.

Educational Initiatives at the 💙 of the Festival
The Festival has raised more than $37 million dollars to date for the Chaplin School which goes towards student scholarships, facility improvements and educational initiatives. Students got to showcase some of their skills when FIU Chaplin School brought the vineyard to the sand inside two tents at the Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village. Guests who attended had a chance to walk through a vineyard come to life and into a large walk-in wine barrel at the FIU Chaplin School tent featuring its new Vidal-Duart Wine Studies Program.

Another space featured the Festival’s history, which got its start in 1997 at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus as a one-day wine and food pairing event created by Professor Chip Cassidy (1947-2019) and his students. In 2002, Festival Founder & Director Lee Brian Schrager moved the Festival to South Beach. 53555150902_5b11c1be33_c1.jpg

53556201793_aff03e45e3_c.jpgVisitors got to experience the Festival’s origin story through a visual timeline. In addition, students from the FIU Bacardi Center of Excellence, a partnership between FIU Chaplin School and Bacardi, served a menu they created called Sipping through the Decades to tell the Festival story in another unique way.

53556338324_a444c6de00_c.jpgFIU Chaplin School hospitality students get to participate in multiple mega events throughout the year.

FIU Alumni show up for a good cause
From a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Vidal-Duart Wine Studies Program named after FIU alumni Tina Vidal-Duart ’02, MBA ‘04 and Carlos Duart ’94, MA ’99 to an Alumni & Friends Brunch hosted by class of ’75 alumnus John McKibbon to a dinner hosted by FIU Embrace, FIU alumni showed up to support their alma mater.

At Asian Night hosted by Jet Tila and Aarti Sequeira, Chaplin School restaurateurs showcased their delicious fare. Alex Kuk ’04, MS ’08 and Diego Ng ’08 of Temple Street Eatery in Fort Lauderdale and Tam Pham ’13, MS ’17 and Harrison Ramhofer ‘13 of Tam Tam in downtown Miami, along with Allen Susser ’78, were just some of the alumni-owned businesses offering guests a taste of their menus at the Festival’s various events.


FIU Green Team sustainability efforts
FIU volunteers serving on this year's Green Team completed more than 600 shifts, helping to divert waste from making it to the landfill and rescuing food in both the Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village and at several events in the Festival's American Airlines® North Venue.

53556199343_73177d4233_c.jpgMembers of FIU's Green Team help educate guests while diverting waste from the landfill.

A Year to Remember
For Vanessa Cheng, this is a memorable year. This is her last Festival because she's graduating in April. As she finished thanking all those who helped make the event a success, someone yelled back, "Shoutout to Vanessa for handpicking the best team."

vanessa-and-team-warehouse.jpgVaness Cheng, right, and other SOBEWFF® volunteers.


 More than 65,000 guests attend the four-day Festival.


FIU adjunct professor, Patricia Falcon (center) worked with alumni and students this year.


Students help celebrities and Food Network personalities all weekend.

53555981424_97a64ac616_c.jpgPaws up for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®!