First thing’s first: Sunday’s Eat Street Festival is, in a way, the opposite of Minneapolis’ myriad “Open Streets” events. Spanning Nicollet from 26th to 28th streets, this hootenany is kind of like a neighborhood block party Hulked-out on thoughtfulness and one-on-one interaction.
Kaley Brown, Executive Director of the Whittier Alliance explains the festival as, "an opportunity, in a much more intimate space than Open Streets – it’s only two blocks – for people to kind of break down one more barrier to interact with their business or their food for the first time, and come out onto the street and be right adjacent to their facade, so they can make that connection with folks like: Here we are, this is us."
As organizers and quasi-curators of this family-friendly event, the Whittier Alliance's goal involved bringing exposure to the businesseses that call this neighborhood home – some of which predate the hyperlocal and mega-dedicated non-profit itself, founded in 1977.
“This neighborhood’s changing a lot, as you know… It’s almost like, what can we do as a small nonprofit to help some of these small, immigrant-owned businesses that have really made Eat Street what it is, y’know, since back in the 70’s-ish when they moved in, when the neighborhood was completely different?” explained Brown.
Assisting tiny restaurants and entrepreneurs in building a new patronage without even having to leave their block felt like a solid first step.
What makes this year’s charge at hosting a Festival tangibly more promising amounts to a decent learning experience from the first year. “The businesses themselves didn’t have the capacity to put on this kind of event, so we ended up getting a grant from the City of Minneapolis -- the Great Streets Program,” without which Brown admits Eat Street Fest would have looked very different than Sunday's roster of live music (including Dua Saleh, who graced the cover of this week's City Pages Fall Arts Guide).
More specifically than 'throwing a great party,' the grant's funds went to breaking down barriers of access small businesses, and especially restaurants, encounter when weighing whether to participate in one-off events like Eat Street Fest.
“That was one of the things we were looking for from the grant this year, was funding to provide more one-on-one support to businesses. We’ve had some success in, like, walking people through the process of how you’d apply for a short-term food permit to sell food on the street, working through the requirements the Health Department needs you to do, what kind of equipment you might need to cook something on the street, where you would get that… That kind of stuff."
It’s a matter of money – not hard math – that with fewer obstacles, participation rates soared. Brown says that process has "gone really well," and the lineup for 2019’s Festival reflects as much.
Thirteen food and beverage vendors have joined ranks including a few repeats from last year’s handful, and they’re pulling from deep into Whittier—not just Eat Street’s low-hanging fruits. While Quang (one of the nation’s top Vietnamese restaurants) is set to show up with bells on, so is Dini Kitchen (run by a sister duo straight from the 4th floor of the Karmel Mall), who'll be slinging coconut lentils, chapati, and vegan samosas. Three Whittier Farmers’ Market newbies – Ingredients Caribbean Cafe, Rouge Smoked Foods, and Ishu’s Himalayan Food – will be on-hand to sell everything from Trinidadian soul food to hot roasted nuts and confectionaries.
Admission is free, which means taking in an Aztec dance performance while sipping on cold brew from SK Coffee just got a little more accessible for curious patrons. Optional wristbands cost $2 and grant attendees ages 21+ access to alcohol served outdoors from either the Black Forest (featuring lawn games) or Rainbow Chinese’s one-day-only “Eggroll Garden” (with prime viewing for musical guests and events on stage).
The vast majority of vendors accept cards for payment, but bringing cash is never a bad idea (and always appreciated by small businesses).
No matter what: Come hungry, and look forward to connecting faces with the names of businesses you've either loved forever, or never knew existed.