We had the good fortune of connecting with David Tyda and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi David, how do you think about risk?
Every festival is a risk. Not just for me and my business, but for anyone who produces them. Will it rain? Will the ticket scanners work? Will the power stay on? Will people show up? Will there be enough food? Will I make any money? The business plan is simple and ludicrous: go 5000% in debt, building something you think is going to be great, and then hope you come out ahead on event day. It’s actually thrilling and it forces you to give it everything you’ve got. Since I was a magazine editor prior to producing festivals, I’ve never been able to operate without a hard deadline. Well, there’s no bigger deadline than getting those gates open for festival day. So many things have to come together for those six or eight hours to function properly. A hundred businesses have to show up, bands have to be ready, drinks have to be cold, and so much more. It’s extremely risky. But, as with any business, you take calculated risks as best you can. Sometimes you need to risk more than is comfortable, but if you truly believe in the idea, then I believe it’s worth taking that risk.
What should our readers know about your business?
I like to say that my company, PHX Fest, celebrates the local food, music, art and beverage scenes with fun, safe, community-driven events that generate revenue for local business as well as for charities. That’s a long way of saying if you like food, you’ll love my events. But what sets us apart is our dedication to shining a light on the local food businesses that participate in our festivals. For Phoenix Pizza Fest, Downtown Donut Fest, FRIED: French Fry & Music Fest, and Gilbert Pizza Fest, we really try to give the participants the most exposure we can. Food vendors at these events keep 100% of their revenue. So when you’re buying that $3 slice of pizza at the event, the event isn’t getting that money – the local food business is. So many events ask local restaurants to dish out free food, but not at ours. Attendees pay about $10 to get in, and it’s been a hurdle educating the public that there’s value to that $10/spend. Prior to our events, most food festivals were all-inclusive $75 tickets. Ironically, that felt exclusive to me. So the $10 ticket puts the day’s spend in the patrons’ hands. It would be easy to say I’m most proud of co-creating the Arizona Taco Festival, which at its peak, drew nearly 40,000 taco lovers. It would be safe to say it’s the most replicated food festival ever created (honestly there are over 200 now with nearly exact event programming). But I’m actually most proud of building the culture around that event. That cannot be replicated. It takes years to build something like that. At last years’ 5th Annual Phoenix Pizza Festival, I began to see it. The event was no longer just a food festival – it had a dedicated, regular crowd and a vibe that was more than food on a plate. You don’t open year one with that. It takes time, constant dedication, and building of relationships. However, I and the entire live event industry is currently facing the biggest hurdle ever put before us: Covid-19. Our industry was the first to shut down and will be shut down the longest. Besides the obvious financial devastation this virus is causing, I worry about how it will all go down once we’re able to return. What will become of that vibe? Will I be putting anyone in harm’s way? Will I be able to get insurance? Will there be 100 events looking to return on my same weekend? Will I be able to get porto-potties? How much will it cost to clean them constantly? While some events like music festivals can pivot to online, food festivals are tactile, in-person experiences. I would like people to know that when we come out of this, please support your local festival producers. Big, national companies will continue to produce their events, but we, like restaurants, are small, locally owned businesses that need your support. It will likely be two years of lost income before we can truly return. We’ll be in rough shape, but we’ll try like hell to rebuild what we once had. The silver lining in all this is that I think festival-goers are beginning to realize the essential role events play in society.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It’s tricky for me to name faves because I have so many. I wrote about these top restaurants for The Food Network’s website: https://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/photos/best-restaurants-phoenix and https://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/photos/best-restaurants-scottsdale so I would start with these. But Covid’s really put a wrench in plans. I’d want to pick places that are adamant about safety, cleanliness, and social distancing. So, for food, I’d focus on street food and patios. We’d meet at food trucks like Baja Roots for tacos and burgers or Quaddro Pizza for Detroit-style pie. We’d probably hit up the patio at Arizona Wilderness in Downtown Phoenix or the new, woman-owned Greenwood Brewing, also with a great patio on Roosevelt Row. We’d definitely go to The Churchill, with its open-air restaurants and bars. All of the local resorts have great patio restaurants, but I’m hyper focused on small, locally owned spots right now because they so desperately need our support. I’ve jokingly renamed my backyard Cantina Quarantina – it’s a safe spot where the mezcal flows and the takeout’s always great. So if I had visitors, we’d likely order sushi from Kaizen or charcuterie and cocktail kits from the new Garden Bar and relax at my casual cantina.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
That’s easy: Lisa Duffield. Lisa really runs the show. I get the restaurants signed up, manage the brand, the marketing, the relationships, but Lisa makes sure it all works. All the logistics, the timing, the supplies, the layout, the paperwork. She does so much more than that, but she’s one of those event producers that makes you feel like “she’s got this, no problem.” We always have each other’s back and both give these festivals everything we’ve got. It’s a rare thing to be able to operate without questioning how much your partner is putting in, you know? We both have ultimate trust in each other and that’s what makes it work. Lisa is also the mother of a special needs child, Waylon, and I’m always envious of her ability to juggle it all.
Debby Wolvos, Jacob Tyler Dunn, Flargus, Zee Peralta