Dining With Denise Neil

Taco Fest organizers taking lessons from chaotic event into next year

When they first came up with the idea for the Wichita Taco Fest, the staff of Festive ICT, an event-planning group, envisioned a little community event that would allow Mexican food fans to eat tacos and sip margaritas downtown. They hoped they could draw about 2,000 or 3,000 people.

But that’s not what happened. As it turns out, their idea was a little too appealing.

The event, which happened Saturday at the Union Station Plaza, 701 E. Douglas, drew an estimated 7,000 people – and it may actually have been more than that, said Naquela Pack, another of the festival’s organizers.

The organizers just were not prepared for the astronomical turnout, she said. The festival opened at noon, and by 12:30, the two entry lines both had hundreds of people in them. The line to get into the Douglas entrance at one point stretched nearly to the Eaton Place – a full city block.

Once people got inside, they encountered long lines, hard-to-maneuver crowds and food shortages.

Many weren’t happy and took to Facebook to air their complaints.

“Too bad the event organizers were so unorganized,” one wrote. “They missed this one BIG TIME and ended up giving Wichita a big black eye.”

“Waited in line to get in. Then waited in line for an hour and a half and they were sold out of tacos before we got through even ONE LINE,” wrote other.

Pack said on Monday morning that organizers sympathize with those who were upset, but they had no idea how many people were going to show up. Based on advance sale of the $5 admission tickets and interest shown on Facebook, she said, they estimated a crowd of about 4,000.

In the chaos, they weren’t able to separate lines of people who had bought tickets in advance from people trying to buy tickets at the gate. They’d fully intended to fast track pre-purchased ticket holders through the lines.

And there just wasn’t enough room, she said.

The good news, though, is that Wichita clearly likes the idea of a Taco Fest, Pack said. And organizers are already talking about how to fix the flaws and make it better next year.

“We definitely feel it was a success,” she said. “We also understand and feel for those who prepaid and were waiting in those long lines. We understand their frustration.”

Before the festival, Pack said, organizers asked the 18 taco vendors to up the number of tacos they were bringing based on interest. A few didn’t get the message and were out of tacos within two or three hours. The festival lasted from noon to 7 p.m.

Some were able to make grocery store runs and get their service started again. Many of the vendors still had tacos until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., and a couple – including People’s Choice winner Casa Del Charro – made it all the way to 7 p.m.

Though several people complained, Pack said, several others took to social media to defend the festival, which like any first-year festival had some unexpected kinks.

“Wait, so our city had an overwhelming response to an awesome event idea? And the event sold out, making it a success? And people are mad at that?,” wrote one Facebook defender. “C'mon ICT, you're better than this. Be happy the event worked and can be improved on, rather than hating it due to your own selfishness.”

Organizers will be getting together this week to talk about how to improve next year’s event, which they say will definitely happen. Their main concerns, Pack said, will be finding a bigger venue and streamlining the entry process. They’re also hoping that the interest from Saturday will inspire more vendors to sign on.

In the meantime, they’re planning another event based on the same idea.

Pizza Fest will be coming this fall. Stay tuned for more details.