Jazz Fest musings part 2 – the food

From moldy city comes a link to an article in City Business on the skyrocketing cost of being a Jazz Fest food vendor

Recipe to serve at Fest not always easy to follow
Muffaletta vendor can’t raise price to offset cost
by Emilie Bahr

Betty Dupont of Di Martino’s Famous New Orleans Muffalettas places layers of salami on Muffalettas places layers of salami on sandwiches to be sold at Jazz Fest. (Photo by Frank Aymami)
Betty Dupont of Di Martino’s Famous New Orleans Muffalettas places layers of salami on Muffalettas places layers of salami on sandwiches to be sold at Jazz Fest. (Photo by Frank Aymami)

In February 2003, Peter Di Martino got the news he’d long hoped to hear. The muffuletta vendor at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival had pulled out.

Di Martino, who more than three decades ago opened DiMartino’s Famous New Orleans Muffulettas in Terrytown and has since grown the business to three West Bank locations, said selling what he considers the city’s signature sandwich at the city’s signature festival was “one of the things I always wanted to do.”

But as long as someone else was selling muffulettas, he wasn’t likely to be called upon. Festival organizers, he said, shy away from duplication.

“You really get to represent the city with a product that was started in this city,” Di Martino said of the appeal of working Jazz Fest. “Obviously,” he added, “you try to make money too.”

But what might appear to be an easy jackpot is not necessarily so, festival organizers and vendors say, and success comes at a significant price.

In his first year, Di Martino, who was notified about a month before opening weekend of his selection as a Jazz Fest vendor, said he spent $15,000 on the kitchen supplies, shelving, safe and other equipment required for his booth at the festival. He also spends between $7,000 and $10,000 each year in booth rental fees, to say nothing of the money spent on the 2,000 pounds of meat, 3,000 loaves of bread and 200 gallons of olive salad he estimated goes into the operation each year.

The cost for those provisions is up significantly this year, Di Martino said, thanks to a spike in food prices exacerbated by a declining dollar that makes his European-imported salami and olive products particularly pricey.

In what he described as one example of the highly-regulated environment confronted by prospective festival vendors, Di Martino said he wanted to raise the price for his Jazz Fest muffulettas from $5 to $6 this year to account for those inflated wholesale costs. Festival organizers, he said, wouldn’t let him.

More than five dozen food vendors are scheduled for this year’s Jazz Fest. A handful, including Angelo Brocato’s, Fatty’s Cracklins of St. Francisville and Creole’s Lunch House of Lafayette, return for the first time since 2005.

For some festival attendees, the food is a bigger draw than the music, said Wendy Waren, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

“I never get close to any of the music stages,” food critic Tom Fitzmorris admitted in a recent Web log on the topic, “but I will be eating about half the selection of food.”

Last Monday afternoon, well after the lunch rush had subsided, the kitchen at Di Martino’s Terrytown restaurant buzzed with activity.

A long steel counter was covered with sheets of wax paper piled thick with stacks of meat and cheese to be vacuum sealed and stored for Jazz Fest’s opening weekend.

“The muffuletta sandwich,” Di Martino said as he joked with his kitchen staff, “is very labor intensive. It’s not like you can throw it together.”

Out at the Fair Grounds, at least a dozen people, among them Di Martino and his children, staff the restaurant’s booth. They arrive before 8 a.m. and leave 12 sweaty hours later, after all the crowds have dispersed.

“Jazz Fest is a killer for me and I’ve been working since I was 7 years old,” said Di Martino, now 59. “Jazz Fest is like the king of work. It takes us a week to recover, just physically.”

Is all the investment in time, energy and capital worthwhile?

“It’s not an easy call,” he said. “Like they say, ‘Jazz Fest is not for everyone.’ It does give you some added revenue. But it’s not an easy chore. Every year you have to figure out it if it’s worth it.”

For five years, Di Martino has decided it is.


~ by maringouin on Tuesday, April 29, 2008.

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