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Record-Breaking 2,600+ Food Lovers Attend Columbia Food and Wine Festival in Sixth Year

CRBR Biz Wire //May 15, 2023//

Record-Breaking 2,600+ Food Lovers Attend Columbia Food and Wine Festival in Sixth Year

CRBR Biz Wire //May 15, 2023//

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More than 70 culinary partners participated in the festival’s Grand Tasting

The 2023 festival marks the largest year ever in attendance and support of the region’s culinary community

The 2023 Columbia Food and Wine Festival brought 2,699 food lovers together for a culinary celebration consisting of eight events over five days featuring 124 culinary partners. In its sixth year, the festival boasted its highest attendance, highest restaurant participation and highest amount of out-of-town visitors, making it the biggest festival yet. Both locals and culinary enthusiasts from across the region participated in the festival events which included seated chef collaboration meals, a cocktail competition, a culinary class, tasting events and more. Additional information about Columbia Food and Wine Festival, presented by Certified SC, can be found online at

“Columbia Food and Wine Festival is a wonderful showcase of our incredible culinary community, and this year’s bigger-than-ever event allowed us to welcome visitors and support local businesses, boosting Columbia’s hospitality and tourism industry as a whole,” said City of Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann. “It is a true marker of growth for our region, and seeing the festival gain more traction every year is both exciting and promising for the city.”

Eight one-of-a-kind food-filled events set the tone for the biggest and best festival yet

Since its debut in 2018, Columbia Food and Wine Festival has brought over 9,600 guests together at 34 events featuring 274 culinary partners at locations across the greater Columbia, S.C. region, in both Richland and Lexington counties.

“We are thankful for every person who participated or attended a Columbia Food and Wine Festival event. Without your time and support, we could not have made this our most successful year to date,” said Chase Heatherly, festival organizer and Publisher of The Free Times. “We promise to continue to grow and evolve alongside our culinary scene, continuing to increase our impact and shine a positive light on the hospitality community and Columbia as a whole.”

Columbia Food and Wine Festival, a Growing Tourism Draw
Columbia Food and Wine Festival drew in hundreds of visitors from throughout the Southeast, providing an opportunity to enjoy local culinary experiences and explore other attractions. For the first time in festival history, more than half of paid ticketholders were from outside the City of Columbia. In 2023, 51% of paid ticketholders came from outside the City of Columbia, and 17% came from outside the Midlands region. Ticketholders represented 9 states and 102 unique zip codes.

In 2023, the festival worked to attract more out-of-town guests and increase regional attention in support of Columbia’s growth within the hospitality and tourism industries. Recently, Columbia ranked second out of twelve competitive regions in the Southeast for annual growth rate share of employment in leisure and hospitality, per Elevate Midlands, an annual report from the Midlands Business Leadership Group that highlights the growth of the Columbia, S.C. region.

Food lovers from across the state visited the region for Columbia Food and Wine Festival

“We are thrilled to see an increased number of Columbia Food and Wine Festival attendees coming from outside of the Columbia region and choosing to spend a long weekend exploring the incredible amenities we have to offer, from the culinary scene and beyond,” said Charlene Slaughter, director of communications at Experience Columbia SC. “We expect to see more excitement and tourism growth surrounding our food scene as the region is getting more attention from noteworthy organizations like the James Beard Foundation.”

The Columbia Food and Wine Festival was proud to collaborate with Lula Drake, a 2023 James Beard Foundation awards finalist, in two signature events — Pasta & Pairings and Desserts & Digestifs. The restaurant also participated in the Grand Tasting. James Beard semifinalist Spotted Salamander also participated in the festival’s Grand Tasting. As part of its mission to support the local culinary community, the festival looks for ways to highlight and celebrate the wins of its restaurant partners.

“One thing I love about Columbia Food and Wine Festival is that everyone is there to have a great time — it is simply a rousing celebration of our food scene,” says Tim Gardner, owner of Lula Drake. “The festival gives us a chance to get creative and try new things, take chances, meet new people and have fun. We are grateful for the support of the festival and the community.”

Eight Food-Filled Events Drive Highest Attendance Numbers Ever
This year’s lineup of one-of-a-kind events included seven signature events and the Grand Tasting, with 2,699 festival attendees in total.

The Kick-Off Dinner at Motor Supply featured a three-course chef collaboration from Blake Fairies of Loosh Culinaire, Frank Bradley of Hendrix and Wes Fulmer of Motor Supply. The following day was all penne and pastries — Chef Pierce Bowers of Dorsia Pasta Co. led a pasta-making class at Pasta & Pairings with wine paired from Mike Wine-Guy and a delectable menu including Lula Drake’s cheese and charcuterie board along with two pastas from Bowers and Lula Drake Chef Rachael Harrison. At Desserts and Digestifs, guests mingled in the lobby of Hotel Trundle with live jazz music and an assortment of sweet treats from Smoked, Lula Drake and Tess Snipes with dessert wine pairings from Lula Drake’s Tim Gardner dessert wine selections, Branca USA digestif samplings and Smoked dessert cocktails.

Mixer on Main: The Remix featured a cocktail competition from eleven mixologists throughout the Main Street District and a panel of judges made up of journalists and beverage pros. Capital City Club’s Persephone cocktail — made with Bulleit Rye, green goddess elixir, mint ginger simple syrup, fresh lemon, lime and pepper oil — was selected as the winner. The people’s choice award went to Hendrix’s Don’t Believe Me, Just Scotch cocktail made with Johnnie Walker Black Label, strawberry, rhubarb honey, amaretto and coconut.

At Brunch & Bungees, guests were led through a series of low-impact exercises before enjoying bites and sips from Tasty as Fit and Café Strudel. The Mezze on the Menu lunch featured a three-course meal from Columbia’s heavy hitters of Mediterranean cuisine — Always Original Bakery, Arabesque, Mediterranean Tea Room and Pita’s. The CAE Concert on the Runway featured six local food trucks and a rocking musical lineup with performances by local DJ Preach Jacobs, Opus and the Frequencies and headlined by Blue Dogs.

The Grand Tasting boasted nearly 2,000 attendees at Historic Columbia’s Robert Mills House and Gardens with tastes from more than 70 vendors, including restaurants, breweries, cocktail stations and more. With chef and beverage demos and a first-ever wine shop, the festival provided unique educational opportunities for guests.

“This festival allows the people of Columbia to get to know the movers and shakers of the hospitality scene on a more personal level,” said Heatherly. “It brings me immense pride to see locals falling in love with where they live through this festival. We look forward to providing more opportunities to instill local pride in future years.”

Giving Back to the Culinary Community
Championing the local hospitality scene is a core value of the festival. Through chef stipends and profit sharing with local business owners, Columbia Food and Wine Festival prioritizes the needs of its culinary partners. The festival also partners with several non-profit volunteer organizations that receive donations for the support they provide.

To further the impact on Columbia’s local hospitality, the festival has two nonprofit beneficiaries — the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Foundation (SCRLF) and the Charitable Plate.

SCRLF benefits the state’s hospitality industry by providing post-secondary scholarships, industry-related school-to-career programs, and workforce development initiatives. The Charitable Plate provides scholarships to fund the advancement and growth of future chefs, farmers, heritage foods, and educational pursuits to strengthen our local food system. Learn more about the festival’s nonprofit partners at

The 2023 Columbia Food and Wine Festival, presented by Certified South Carolina, is generously sponsored by and would not be possible without AllSouth Federal Credit Union, Beam Suntory; Blue Marlin; Carolina Fine Jewelry; Carolina Gold Construction; Columbia Metropolitan Airport; Cool Care Heating, Air, Plumbing & Refrigeration; Crisp Event Rentals; Cumulus Media; Delta Dental of South Carolina; Discover SC; Don Julio Premium Tequila; East Bay Deli; Events by Snow; Experience Columbia SC; Grace Outdoor; Greystar; Hawthorne Pharmacy; Heart of Ice Scupltures; Hilton Columbia Center / Hampton Inn Downtown Historic District; Historic Columbia; Hotel Trundle; J. King Real Estate; Jim Hudson Automotive Group; Kombi Keg; Lexington Medical Center; Lourie Life & Health; Main Street District; Mauldin and Jenkins; NAI Columbia; Network in Action; Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union; Peak Drift Brewing; Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union; Publix; Republic National distributing Company; SSOE; The COMET; The Crescent Olive; The Joye Law Firm; The Stanley Law Group; Uptown Cocktails; US Foods; Valet Technologies; Waxing the City; WLTX News 19; Yellowstone Bourbon.

Columbia Food and Wine Festival looks forward to continued growth in future years, looking for new and creative ways to convene food enthusiasts, support the local culinary community, instill local pride and drive tourism in the Greater Columbia, S.C. region. For more information on Columbia Food and Wine Festival, head to

About Columbia Food and Wine Festival
Columbia Food and Wine Festival highlights the thriving culinary scene throughout the greater Columbia S.C. region through events that spotlight diverse talent and elevate local businesses. The multi-day festival brings thousands of food lovers and community members together for a one-of-a-kind experience featuring Columbia’s finest plates and pours. Since 2018, Columbia Food and Wine Festival has highlighted the “Real Southern Hot Spot” as a destination for food-filled experiences. Plan your #ColaFoodandWine itinerary at

Instagram: @ColumbiaFoodandWine
Facebook: Columbia Food and Wine Festival
Hashtags: #ColaFoodandWine #ColaFWF

About Post and Courier, the event host
The Post and Courier, founded in 1803 in Charleston, is an award-winning newspaper including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. In 2020, The Post and Courier expanded statewide and now operates newsrooms in Columbia, Greenville, Myrtle Beach, and Spartanburg.

Since 1987, Free Times has served as Columbia’s entertainment publication providing local coverage on politics and government, arts and entertainment, food and nightlife. Free Times has long been a staple of the media landscape in our region. In 2016, Free Times was acquired by Evening Post Industries, owner of The Post and Courier. Since that time, the two sister brands, both firmly committed to local journalism, have shared content in print and online to reach readers across South Carolina. Together, Free Times and The Post and Courier employ 18 full-time journalists living and working in the city of Columbia. In addition to producing Columbia’s largest and most-read weekly publication, Free Times has grown a reputation throwing incredible events including Best of Columbia and A Free Times Halloween.

Today, The Post and Courier and Free Times sustain a reputation for providing honest and trusted coverage of news, food, music, arts, and culture, throwing incredible events and engaging an audience of diverse political views, socioeconomic statuses, ages and genders.