Who knew we were so starved for chicken? Crowds swamped the inaugural Southern Fried Chicken Festival last weekend.
4Hands Brewery cooked up this event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of St. Louis’s favorite new restaurant (officially) and national fried chicken day. They cleared off the lot behind their space, invited the big-name heavy-hitters in the St. Louis chicken scene (I swear that’s a thing.) We had restaurants like Juniper, Southern, Gus’s and Byrd & Barrel – and we had Ices Plain & Fancy and Strange Donuts to sweeten the mix. What do you get when you add all that, a giant crowd and a blacktop parking lot together?
Well, pandemonium, kinda.
Here were the lines to get chicken. Reports said that they stretched for more than an hour.
Attendees complained of long lines on hot blacktop, warm weather, a lack of parking. My favorite quote was “It was like Six Flags, without any of the fun.” Apparently many attendees had never been to an outdoor festival in St. Louis in the summertime before. My expectation going in was that it was going to be like the flaming gates of hell, with drunk people. Since I had managed my expectations appropriately I was quite pleasantly surprised. Yes, the lines for some of the chicken places were long, and yes the blacktop was hot and yes you were going to get sweaty. But lines were moving quickly for ice cream, donuts and beer, and if you really wanted chicken you could get some of those other things and partake while you stood in the lines.
The people working at the food booths were absolute heroes—drenched in sweat and toiling over hot grease fryers but smiling ear to ear anyway, they cheerfully served up loads of chicken to festival-goers. (I have to say the workers at the Ices Plain & Fancy booth really caught a break, they’re the only ones who had to worry about accidentally freezing.)
I don’t have a solid number of attendees, but estimates at the time I was there were already around 1,500. Yes, people grumbled, but for a first-year festival I would say this was a roaring success. The problem with event planning (and why I loathe event planning) is that it is almost impossible to estimate interest in a brand-new event. You can plan your festival with military precision, two backups for every potential issue, and have rain wash out the whole affair. You can plan for 10k and have 150. You can plan for 750 and have 2k. And whatever you get, you have to work with it, with a smile on your face, despite people who’ve never planned their way out of a bathroom stall crabbing at you from their hindsight perch about all the things you should have anticipated.
Check out all the people managing to have fun despite the fact they had to stand in a line and get a little sweaty.
So yes, there were some glitches, and my companions and I ended up buying some beer and ice cream but forgoing the chicken lines. We went to Gus’s in Maplewood to get our chicken fix, and you know what? Gus’s was absolutely packed to the gills with festival overflow. Think about that. 4Hands and Southern planned an event that got such a great response that it boosted chicken business all over town.
If the aim was to get St. Louisans out and about and interested in local vendors, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I can’t wait to see what this festival has in store for future years. We are blessed with so many amazing chefs in our region who really commit to quality food, local food, sustainability. We have unique and interesting new places popping up constantly. So yes, some people had to wait in a line, and yes, parking may not have been ideal. But if we want a truly thriving region, we’re going to have to get used to crowds.
Check out my video below – subscribe to my channel, like my Facebook page and leave me a comment here if you would. It makes me feel better on the days when it seems like no one in St. Louis wants to hear about anything other than the current murder count. (We’re at 97.)
Southern Fried Chicken Festival Video