Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter
Company: Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
Industry: Food & Beverages
This year, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival welcomes more than 250 chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, pitmasters, farmers and artisans, hailing from Texas to the District of Columbia. Launched in 2010 by Atlanta entrepreneurs Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, the four-day festival offers carefully-crafted programs and events to entertain and educate consumers about the rich food and beverage traditions of the South. The event also celebrates the flavors of other Southern regions around the globe including Southern Europe, South Africa, South America, Southern Hemisphere (Australia and New Zealand) and South-of-the-Border for Mexico.
So how did an event with ten thousand attendees, eighty-five classes and twenty-seven different events actually get started? Let’s rewind to the beginning. Love first started her consulting firm thirteen years ago. Feichter, who was working with Hands on Atlanta at the time, was actually her client. She would join Love’s team three years later. Fast-forward a few more years, and Love and Feichter founded the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which is now in its sixth year, and just this March, they merged with a larger company out of London, International Wine and Spirit Competition. What was just the one festival a year has now evolved to Love and Feichter’s team actively acquiring other food and beverage events across North America. It’s a constant year round push that doesn’t slow down.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Elizabeth Feichter: Day-to-day is busy. For Atlanta Food and Wine in particular, it’s a lot of planning in the fall and early part of the year, from a programming perspective. Dominique manages that side of things. That team dives heavy into what everything will look like for the weekend, what the course of the weekend looks like. As we get into spring, then we take it on from a production perspective.
Dominique mentioned you’ve got ten to twelve thousand people across four days eating at a lot of different events. That’s fifty-six thousand forks and four hundred and twenty-two plates here – all of those pieces. It’s kind of a really fun puzzle in fitting all those pieces together.
Your very first year of doing this festival, what surprised you most? Was there anything that you realized you needed and didn’t prepare for?
Elizabeth Feichter: I think it was the fact that we did it that surprised me the most. I have this moment that I recall, if asked a similar question, where I remember standing in our production office and kind of looking down at the street and thinking to myself, “Oh, my God, we did that.” They were coming. The people were coming.
Dominique Love: I remember our PR team from New York asked, “Where are you? You need to be visible.” We’re like, “Why?” “Well, because this is your event.” It was like, “Oh… Okay. Well, yeah. We’re working on something. We’ll come up in a little bit.” We clearly did not have a sense of it. It was so funny because people would say stuff to us like, “How are you funding this? This seems too complicated. What about this?”
I would say, “Oh, yeah. We’ve got that, we’ve got that, we got that.” In hindsight when it’s done, you look back and you’re like, “Oh, God. They were trying to tell us something, we didn’t know what we were doing.” We’ve had a good team. It’s funny now, because you look back on those first couple of years…
I mean, year one, it was pretty much four of us who put it on. There were four core people. That was it. We did every single thing. We brought in some contractors at the end of it, but we did it all. Now, we worked easily a hundred and twenty hours a week. There were lots of tears, lots of panic, but we were determined. We got into it.
Elizabeth Feichter: People say all the time, “Does it get easier?” I’m like, “No, it’s the same amount of work. It’s the same.” I mean, we can anticipate it, but no, I’m still working on average twenty hours a day.
Obviously, you geek out about wine, but what do you like the most about what you do? Tell me a little bit about the passion you have for this event.
Dominique Love: I don’t even geek out that much over wine.
Elizabeth Feichter: I geek out over bourbon.
Dominique Love: Yeah. I do. Yeah.
Elizabeth Feichter: I geek out over the talent, too… I love being able to walk into a kitchen and talk to talent, see what they’re doing and know that we were a part of making all of that come to life.
Dominique Love: You remember that Sally Fields’ Oscars speech where she was like, “You like me! You really like me!” It’s kind of that feeling, that from that first time… The first year, we just had to pull it off. You don’t know what you don’t know, but we just had to pull it off, and we had to not embarrass ourselves, not embarrass the founder’s council at that time. We had to put on a good show. We couldn’t embarrass Atlanta.
There was a lot on us, and we were going to work until we collapsed basically, to make it happen. Then we got there, and all these people were there and we’re like, “They like our concept. You really like it.” The best feeling is when you walk into that hotel at the beginning of the weekend on Thursday and even Wednesday, and people are arriving… Just your heart just starts racing. I mean, you feel so special and cool. You’re so proud. Pride is the biggest thing. Afterward… We get a lot of handwritten thank you notes from guests. That’s really super nice. You feel like, “Okay, I made a difference.”
We’re part of something that’s really good. It’s this collaboration. We’re part of this great effort by a lot of people, not just us. We’re on the front lines and get the most visibility, but you’ve got all of the advisory council, all of our staff, all of the exhibitors, the sponsors… I mean, it’s a lot of people who are saying, “We want to be here and we want to make this happen.” That feels really good.
Elizabeth Feichter: I think if somebody asked me, “What’s your idea of your favorite evening?” It’s sitting around a table with the people who I’m closest to and having just an epic meal, just a long meal where you just sit and talk. Just sharing with each other around the table. When I think about Atlanta Food and Wine, I think about it that way on a massive scale. We’ve created this huge table for people to sit around and to interact with each other.
You see talent who don’t live in the same state, but who walk into the hotel and they’re like, “Oh, my God, it’s so great to see you!” It’s like no time has passed at all, and you’re sitting around a table and you’re sharing that moment together. Atlanta Food and Wine is about creating that common table where we all sit and learn from each other and enjoy one another’s company. That’s what I’m proud of.
Dominique Love: I love that analogy. It’s almost like you’re having a big potluck… We’re setting the table, someone is coming in and bringing the linens. Someone’s coming in and bringing the main course and the appetizer. I mean, that’s a very Southern thing to do, that you all work together to make this dinner… It’s an idea for another dinner next year.
Vineyard in the City
Planted squarely in the middle of Midtown on nearly four acres of land is Vineyard in the City, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival’s pop-up vineyard and the first of its kind in the US. The vineyard is made up of 60, 20-year-old Sun Grown grapevines, each spanning 12-feet, from Jaemor Farms in Alto, GA. The space will also feature a wild flower meadow, two bocce courts, and Chinese Elm, Black Gum, Silver Date Palm and Green Japanese Maple trees. The Vineyard will be the “it” destination for several weekend events during the Festival.
Vineyard in the City will officially open on Thursday, June 2 for the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival weekend and then remain open until June 30 for community use, live music, free arts programming and events presented by PNC and Midtown Alliance.
With all of the intensity and stress behind this that you deal with, how do you key down at the end of the day and just relax? Or do you?
Dominique Love: You can stay on top of the work, but it’s also then you have to stay on top of your family. We’re both moms. I think that really changes the dynamic. We can work, and we could go all night long, but we have someone else who depends on us. For us, it has added another dimension to it.
Elizabeth Feichter: Kids don’t understand. They can’t. You can’t shirk that responsibility.
Dominique Love: They don’t care that you have something to do. It’s story time, it’s play time, it is mommy time.
Elizabeth Feichter: Then I’ll work until 2:00am, but I’m going to sit and read with you.
Dominique Love: How do you ramp down at the end? I mean, well… As a team, we go do something the very last night. We could tell you that we have to clean. We go dancing really hard, really bad. Let it all out.
Elizabeth Feichter: It’s funny because Dominique, and I have traveled together for so many years. That’s kind of always been our release. It’s like, “We’ll go dancing.” Just dance hard.. Dance like nobody’s watching … Just enjoy it. You have to take a minute and appreciate it. We’re working hard, but that’s the moment where you can say, “We did it” and to be able to wind down.
Dominique Love: I think now, we’re trying to do a little bit more vacation. We took a vacation together this past year. We took our sons, and we went over to London with them. It was great to be able to demonstrate to them that because we work like we do, we have this relationship with a company in London, which enables us to travel.
I think it’s really important for our boys to see that side of it as well that… I like that my son sees that I’m working really hard. I like that he says, “You’re a hard worker.” I hope that he finds that inspirational. I like that he also sees that we laugh and we have fun and that we can walk away… If you really like what you do, you’re willing to give it your all. But you do need a reprieve every once in awhile.
What three pieces of advice would you offer to other women looking to start their own business?
Elizabeth Feichter: Do it with someone you love. I mean, now’s the time. Working for yourself is amazing. It’s hard and personal, but I can’t imagine working for anybody else. It’s just so fulfilling.
Dominique Love: You have to be willing to dive in and want something more for yourself. Every single thing we do in life has a price to it. This idea that you’re just going to go out and start a business and here’s what’s going to happen. It’s not true. You’re going to have days where you don’t have any money in your bank account. You’re going to have days where you’re working so hard that you can’t see straight.
You’re going to have days where you’re wondering, “What have I done to myself? What have I done here?” If you really want it and if you really believe in it, all of those things are just bumps along the way. Having a partner definitely helps. I have yet to find that entrepreneur who achieves in all areas.
They might be really well-rounded, but we really complement one another… Our success would look very different had we not been with one another. She talked about in the beginning, there’s that programming piece. I’m good at that. She’s really good at the meticulous, the details, and knowing where the forty, the fifty-seven thousand forks go.
Elizabeth Feichter: The four thousand spoons, too.
Dominique Love: Yeah. There you go… We play off of one another and we stay in our own lanes, but we also collaborate as much as we can. I think if you’re going to have a partner, it’s got to be you find someone who’s got strengths that complement yours or fill in where you aren’t as strong and where your strengths complement her weaknesses, her opportunities. I mean, I think we both could do, in some ways, each other’s jobs. We would never do each other’s jobs as well.
How do you guys handle situations where you don’t agree? How do you approach those situations as friends and business partners?
Elizabeth Feichter: Communication is key from the beginning of our partnership.
Dominique Love: And bourbon.
Elizabeth Feichter: Drinking and communication. Being open and honest and talking things through. We have a more intense relationship sometimes with each other than we do with our partners. It matters to talk about it. You’re not going to agree on everything. You’re just not. You’re going to come at things from different perspectives, but as long as you’re talking about it, and you’re communicating about it, and you’re understanding that the other person has a different perspective, you can get through it. You just got to talk it through and then drink it through at the end.
Dominique Love: I mean, when we started, I think one of the smartest things we did. I mean, we kind of did it jokingly, but we started out by this thing “Pass the bottle”. We knew that communication was going to be important. Elizabeth is a little bit more reserved in some things, and I’m much more vocal. It was, “How do we balance that? How do I say what’s on my mind without being too overwhelming?”
“How does she get to the point of what’s on her mind and get that out so that we can both address each other’s needs?” We kind of felt like if we’re just sharing a bottle of wine and pass the bottle, that it might kind of make it an easier and, I don’t want to say safer, but just a more comfortable environment. Well, I mean, we did that a couple of times and then we never really needed it.
Elizabeth Feichter: It just became instinctual.
Dominique Love: Yeah. Now, it’s good. I mean, we’ve had moments where we have struggled with “I feel” and getting that down, but I think we’re now in that face of really we can say to one another, “I really don’t like this” or “I’m upset when you say this” or “I’m feeling this way”.
Elizabeth Feichter: And respect each other at the end of it, too. Just because I don’t agree with something you’re doing, it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect you and that I can’t get right on over it tomorrow, it just means that I don’t agree with it right now.
Dominique Love: I also think you get to the point where… I don’t know. In the beginning, we used to hold on to the smallest things because it’s just everything. We had a lot riding on all of this. I mean, we still do. We still do. That hasn’t totally changed, but we’re sharing the burden with more people now, or sharing the pain with more people.
We did hold on to little things. When you’re holding on to a lot of little things, it just all kind of builds. It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. Now, I think those little things are still important, but in the grand scheme of it, it’s like, “Okay, just let that go. I’m not going to make an issue about that” or “Let’s just move on” because it doesn’t really matter.
How important do you feel it is to be a female entrepreneur?
Elizabeth Feichter: I think that it’s important to be a female entrepreneur. I think it’s important to share with the world your talents and to think about your big ideas and make them come to life. Nobody else is going to make them come to life for you. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and I’m particularly proud to have found my way to a partnership and a business that can let me continue that… Dominique mentioned our children. I want my son to see that, I want my family to see that, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done and what we continue to do. That would be my advice is go do it. It’s hard, but it’s so worth it.
Dominique Love: I think within all of us, we have the ability to do whatever we want. I think a lot of women lose sight of the world being their oyster. They end up focusing a lot on taking care of other people and getting approval and all of that. At some point, women need to just say, “I want to do this and I’m going to do it” and go for it. It’s going to work out. I don’t believe in balance because that means you’re kind of mediocre across or neutral.
You’re going to have those real great times, those real bad times. Some days you’re going to be an excellent mom. As I was going through Starbucks yesterday to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my kids – Not so good. But you’re going to have a lot of balls to juggle. If you’re doing something that you really believe you’re meant to do and that that’s your purpose, then all of those things just kind of will fall into place.
You go into a situation and sometimes you feel like you have to prove something and someone would say you have to act like a man or think like a man, but no. You need to operate and think like a woman. Don’t be afraid of that and don’t think that it’s a bad thing. Just be yourself and embrace your sexiness, embrace your moodiness, embrace all of the things that make you what you are.
I think in the beginning it was always wanting to say, “Oh… We founded it…” To kind of qualify ourselves. Now, it’s kind of like we’re the interns… We know we’re going to be doubted. We don’t need to fight that… Let’s keep focused on what we need to do and get it done. The naysayers come back. I mean, I think we’ve had almost every naysayer come back and say, “Oops… Sorry.” We had a lot. We did a lot.
Today, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter‘s company, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, has 7 full time employees, five contractors on a regular basis, and during the festival another 10-20 contractors, eight people on the ground, and over a thousand volunteers!
You can follow them at the links below. Also be sure to check out the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival which returns to Midtown Atlanta, Thursday, June 2 – Sunday, June 5, 2016. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com.
Photo Credit: AFWF/Raftermen