We Need to Talk About euphoria

This is the first article in the We Need to Talk About series, a critical look at topics involving food and drink culture in and around Greenville, SC that do not get brought up in normal media or are contrary to public opinion.  

For an update including the 2016 numbers, click here.

For the past few years, Greenville has been bringing in national accolades.  Whether it’s being called the “Next Big Southern Food City” by Esquire or one of the “Best Places to Live,” the plaudits for this small, southern town have been rolling in.  Most of these articles list the same reasons that Greenville is so great: The restaurants!  The revitalized downtown!  Falls Park!  The Swamp Rabbit Trail!  The outdoor festivals!  Ah yes, the outdoor festivals.  Usually, there are three festivals that get mentioned: Artisphere, Fall for Greenville, and euphoria.  euphoria (the little “e” is a stylistic choice by the people who run the event) is quite a different “festival” than the other two. Despite calling itself an “event” and not a festival, euphoria still gets lumped in with the others.  euphoria is an exclusive, expensive, and outward facing event.  We need to talk about euphoria.

euphoria was first started by Carl Sobocinski of Soby’s and Table 301 fame and Edwin McCain of “I’ll Be” fame in 2006.  It lived a short life for the first two years as the Southern Exposure festival before becoming euphoria.  Early websites use the taglines of “phor the…” in explaining the music, food, and wine parts of the event.  Even from the beginning, high-caliber chefs came in to participate.  The 2008 event featured “Top Chef” contestant Michael Voltaggio and Kevin Rathbun who has his restaurant empire in Atlanta.  Then, the dinners were wine dinners, featuring a guest chef whereas now, most of the dinners are events with themes and various guest chefs.  This is where euphoria becomes different from the rest of the Greenville festivals.  It markets itself as an exclusive event and that comes at a price.  A high price.srwi1wdmsgbvk

The cheapest thing you can do at the 2016 edition of euphoria is $35 per person.  That’s a seminar on making beer, wine, side dishes or barbecue.  Granted all of these are with experts in their field, but if you really want to, you can talk to these experts for significantly cheaper .  John Lewis, who recently opened Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, seems rather open to talking to people at his restaurant, is there on a regular basis, and has a book on barbecue coming out soon.  The brewers that will be at the beer event are all local to Greenville and are frequently accessible at their respective breweries.  I know from firsthand experience that they are open to talking about brewing while in their tap rooms.  While none of this may be in a suite at Fluor Field, you still get to sample their wares in their place of business for potentially less than $35.  If you want to participate in any of the food events, the cheapest option is the $55 Sunday BBQ Brunch in the West End.  If you have a family of 4, you can buy a pack of tickets for $100 and save $40.  Incidentally, the web page for the $100 pack states you save $20, but you actually save $40 (55+55+15+15=$140; 140-100=40) [UPDATE 7/29/16: euphoria has changed the price of the family of 4 pack to $120, not $100]. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I have at least 2 people going, I’m buying that 4 pack even if I don’t have 2 children because I save $10 for 2 adults.  After that, the food options range from $65, for tasting things while biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail to $350 for the Michelin Star Dinner at the Lazy Goat featuring Curtis Duffy of Grace, who just won a James Beard Award for best chef, Great Lakes region.   You can also get packages of tickets that start at $125 and go all the way up to $995.  And that’s not including the packages with the hotel stay included or any of the side events like golf or biking with George Hincapie.

The people behind euphoria would say the cost of these events is in hiring these chefs to take their time from their regular jobs, use/rental of the spaces, cost of the food, wine, etc.  I can go to Grace in Chicago and eat in the restaurant for $235, $115 less than the dinner at euphoria.  Sure, it may not include wine, but what if I don’t care for wine?  I personally would much rather have the experience of eating that chef’s food in their home restaurant and not having it muddled by other chefs who, while they make good food, are local and I can have their food any time.  Vivian Howard, of Chef and the Farmer, is doing a meal with two other local female chefs for $150.  I can drive to where her restaurant is located for a long weekend, get a hotel in the area, and eat at the restaurant for not much more than the cost for two people attending that meal which also involves other chefs.  Once again, this isn’t a knock on the local chefs.  I love our local chefs.  But if a well known chef is coming to town, I’d want to eat mostly food that was their own creation and idea.  But euphoria isn’t for normal, local people.  It’s elite, exclusive, and focuses on out-of-towners more than the local population.HE'S HERE BECAUSE HE'S FANCY

I have never heard of someone from Greenville going to euphoria unless they have a connection or a lot of disposable income.  My wife and I have to plan well ahead of time to go out to dinner for anything over $40 total.  And the cost isn’t the only issue.  It’s the exclusivity.  You can only go to these events if you have a ticket.  Unlike Artisphere or Fall for Greenville, a small percentage of the population here can actually afford to go to euphoria for one event, much less the whole weekend.  All of the events that are located downtown where the events are going on out in the open leave most people on the outside looking in.  This shouldn’t be surprising as the first three objectives of euphoria, as stated on their website, are:

  1. To create a destination event for food, wine and music lovers across the country
  2. To highlight the Culinary and Arts Community of Upstate South Carolina
  3. To promote tourism in Greenville, SC

euphoria is meeting all three of those goals, but maybe not going about it the right way.  There needs to be cheaper events like a local chefs only tasting pavilion or a market set up with all types of kitchenware, food, and drinks to eat on premises or take home.  Maybe even convince the Downtown Greenville Saturday Market to give you that weekend to bring in special vendors and convince some of the more celebrated chefs to do a cooking demo or two in the morning out on the street. [Update 7/30/16: They apparently have something like this called CAFEeuphoria that happens during the Feast by the Field on Saturday afternoon. There’s no mention of it on their website, just on social media.]The BMW Pro-Am, while a larger event, used to have very few events open to the public, but in the past few years they have held a free celebrity concert downtown for anyone to attend.  This helps to bring in the local crowd and yet, they still have their exclusive events for those who can afford it or are affiliated with the event.  While I know the logistics and timing of these types of things can be a minefield, there should be at least one or two events with a low cost of entry in order to bring in the locals who can’t afford a $150, $300, or $700 dinner or event for two or a $100 brunch for your family that’s outside.  euphoria has plenty of sponsors.  There has to be a way to expand the reach to locals without it being expensive.  But this raises the question: where does all of that money go?  Sure there are the associated costs with the dinners and events, but the fourth objective of euphoria is “To raise money to give back to the community.”  And how does euphoria do that?

Did you know that euphoria is a non-profit?  Well, it’s technically an event put on by a non-profit.  Local Boys Do Good (“LBDG”), a 501(3)(c) also started, once again, by Sobocinski and McCain, does business as euphoria.  This might come to a surprise to some, as the non-profit and charity aspect of euphoria is downplayed in their publicity and marketing.  They’re not trying to hide it, but they’re not trying to publicize it either.  The only mention of their non-profit status is on the “ABOUT euphoria” page of their website.  Having gone through all of the tweets from their twitter account from last year’s event until now, there are no mentions by euphoria of where money specifically went or how much was donated.  Their Facebook page reveals that the two posts about giving to non-profits in 2015 were for grant application deadlines and the only post so far in 2016 was a few days ago also about application deadlines.  The only mention of donated money on their website is on the “ABOUT euphoria” page where it says that there have been over 150 grant applications and requests and over $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations given over the past decade to charities and lists the charitable partners for 2016.  When it says on the same page that euphoria “exists for charity,”  why not publicize it more?  There’s a good reason for that.

According to LBDG’s 2015 IRS 990 filing, total expenses for LBDG were $159,476.  Of that, only $30,065 went to program expenses, which are the monies that are given for charitable causes, or 18.9% of total expenses.That leaves $129,411 for overhead and other expenses.  This is actually down from 2014 when it was 20.1% ($25,031) of expenses as well as 2012 which was 22.9% ($30,612),  but up from 2013 at 18.5% ($25,156).  On their 2008 website, euphoria said at that time, all proceeds from the events go to charities.  Now, the website just states that proceeds go to charity.  It doesn’t specify if it’s all or just a portion of the proceeds.  A Facebook post from 2015 states that all net proceeds are given to charity.   Take this in contrast to a charity like Share Our Strength .  They are a much larger charity, but with a cause that is similar to those of LBDG.  In their last 990 filing, they put 69% of their expenses towards programs.  Share Our Strength also helps to put on and is a co-beneficiary of the New York Wine and Food Fest, a much larger event than euphoria, but they limit their involvement to providing contract review, financial reporting, and accounting support.  While I’m sure there are other expenses for the NYWFF, which aren’t listed in their 990, and that their executives and employees make more than that of euphoria; they still manage to put the majority of their expenses towards their cause.  LBDG could even be considered a scrooge by the South Carolina Secretary of State.  They release a list each year of charities that are “angels” or “scrooges.”  To be considered a scrooge, the charity must have “devoted 45 percent or less of its total expenditures to charitable programs; the charity had spent a significant amount of revenue on fundraising expenses; and the charity had registered with the Secretary of State to solicit funds in the state of South Carolina.”  While LBDG was not listed as a scrooge in the last edition of the list, their financials would qualify them for consideration.

euphoria should play up the charitable aspect and also give more transparency to  exactly where their money goes.  I can get the full 990 from the Secretary of State since it’s public record, but make it easy for me.  Post it and the 990s from previous years in full on the website so anyone can access it.  Tell patrons that X% or $X of each ticket sale goes to support the charities.  Have an event with auctions or a dinner where 100% of the proceeds go to your program expenses.  Post on social media how much has been given and to whom and how it’s being used along with pictures or videos.  By having such a small percentage of your expenses go towards programs, the non-profit status looks like it’s more for the tax implications and the ability to hold this event with those benefits than it is to be able to give money back to the community.

euphoria has done a lot to put Greenville on the map food-wise both regionally and nationally.  It contributes a lot of money to the economy and brings people into our town that normally wouldn’t come here.  But Greenville is already facing enough divisiveness downtown through gentrification, rising home prices, and the perception that only a certain type of people are welcome downtown.  There doesn’t need to be an event that is the personification of the haves, the could-haves, and the have-nots.  After years of looking outward towards the rest of the nation, euphoria should start to look inward and towards its own city in its next decade to help further Greenville become a world class food destination and a truly great town in its own right.



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