Saturday, October 4, 2014

2014 Texas Reds Steak and Grape Festival

Every year the city of Bryan, Texas hosts the Texas Reds Steak and Grape festival in the downtown area.  It seems that every year they change the format. Some changes for the better (moving the festival from May to September), some not so much.  Here I'll discuss the 2014 festival.

When I first moved to College Station more than 10 years ago, Bryan was the sad neighbor who had so much potential.  Over the years there has been much effort made to remake the downtown area, with much success.  It's now a dining and shopping destination in Brazos county with some wonderful restaurants (Madden's, Taz, Brauhaus, and Cafe Capri, to name a few) and independently owned boutiques for antiquing and shopping.

The Texas Reds Festival is a chance to showcase the downtown area and bring in foodies from around the region.

This year, as in past years the downtown area was fenced off.  However this year admission was free and the fencing off only included halting traffic in and out of the area.  In previous years there was a $5 admission fee.  Removing admission has a couple advantages in that businesses can move their employees and supplies back and forth without paying to do so, people can wander in and out as they please over the multi-day festival, and people can still visit the businesses inside the festival area without paying a fee to do so.

This year parking was also free at the municipal garage near the courthouse.  This was very convenient.  There was also a shuttle from Blinn College, which was also convenient for people who didn't want to bother with the commute or parking.

Moving the festival from May to September was also a very good move that was made a few years ago. It's just too hot to be outside all day in Texas in May. This year the festival weekend was lovely, with cooler than expected temperatures.

This year's festival included many of the elements from previous years: wine tasting, a kids' area (full of jumpy bounce entertainment), live music, art and crafts for exhibition and sale, and vendors for shopping.  New for this year, and what excited me the most, a craft beer area.  From previous years we knew to purchase a glass and tickets for tastings. Typically one ticket for regular wines and two tickets for premium wines.  This year things were a bit different.

There was a wine area and a craft beer area.  Each required the purchase of different glasses. At $20 per glass.  Tickets were $1 a piece.  To start you must purchase a glass and 5 tickets for $25.  For 2 people wanting to taste the beer that's $50 to start.  If you also want to purchase the wine glass it's $45 a person for 2 glasses.  Or $90 per person.  It could be reasoned that if you go as a couple you could get the $45 deal with the 2 glasses and buy extra tickets for tastings, but The Lovely Spouse and I were only interested in the craft beer, because for the extra money we could purchase a bottle of wine that we knew we liked.  Additionally, we learned from previous years that the wine served at this particular festival is overwhelmingly sweet, leaning towards Kool Aid. We don't like sweet wines.

So we each purchased the $25 beer package, got our $20 pint glasses and $5 in tasting tickets and headed to the craft beer area.

The entire time I kept thinking "don't drop the glass, don't drop the glass, don't drop the glass".
There were 11 craft breweries from Texas represented at this year's Texas Reds.  In my opinion it was a great thing to add to the festival and support Texas craft beer.  Many of the breweries represented sent their own staff to work the tables and visitors could ask beer geek questions and sample brews that might not be available locally.

While it was awesome to interact with the brewery reps, and the beers we tasted were darned good, I couldn't get the thought out of my head that we just spent $50 for 2 glasses and slightly less volume than 2 pints of beers.  Therefore we never purchased more tickets.

So we ate lunch at Proudest Monkey, next door to the Queen theater.  Proudest Monkey is best known for tacos, burgers, Texas craft beer, and signature cocktails, including awesome ice cream cocktails.

I had a Cuban taco. Pulled pork with pickles and mustard.  Just the right combination of flavors and just the right size.
Fried yucca and plantains are a nice alternative to fries. 
The Lovely Spouse loves the yuppie fries - coated with garlic and cheese.
The Lovely Spouse enjoyed his Ranch Hand taco. Beef fajita with pico, cheese, and salsa.
At Proudest Monkey we also enjoyed Texas craft beer, for slightly less than we would pay at the festival. And we got to sit at a table to enjoy it.  We'll definitely be back.  Their ice cream cocktails are delicious, especially the creamsicle cocktail.

I would be remiss if I didn't at least show a picture of the wine tasting area. Yes there was wine tasting. No we were not able to participate in it because we didn't spend an additional $25 for the glass and tickets.
There was also one thing glaringly missing from the Texas Reds Steak and Grape festival.  Steak.  In previous years there were steak cook offs and competitions.  I saw nothing of that this year. It seems strange to call a festival "Steak and Grapes" and to completely forget about ones of those.

In all it's a pretty good festival for showcasing downtown Bryan and just to get outside for a few hours.  I was taken aback by the glassware pricing and the concept of having to choose between craft beer and wine or pay a much higher premium.  If the customers are knowledgeable they know they can get the same glassware for $5-6 and then purchase a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine with the remaining balance.  For $20 a glass it would have made sense to use a glass that would function for both wine tasting and beer tasting, such as one of these:
Image source.
If festival organizers are interested in such a thing, there's a certain brewery in College Station (nice new website, by the way) that uses them for their weekend taprooms. I'm sure they'd be willing to give the city of Bryan the name of their supplier.

If you wish to convince your customers to pay the premium for the glassware, make it worth their while. Let them buy one glass and then buy tickets for both beer and wine. Customers will pay $20 for a glass as admission (I also suggest having a cheaper price point for broken glassware - maybe $10 for a replacement).  But most of them won't do it twice (for both beer and wine). Especially not in a college town, where a number of your customers are students or grad students.  Additionally, having one type of glassware will make printing and ordering a wee bit easier, which is a good thing when you rely on volunteers to run your festival.

In summary (and the TL;DR version): this year's Texas Reds Steak and Grape Festival was good. There is still much room for improvement.

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