Arriving at the sixth annual Charleston Mac Off on Saturday I got the distinct sense that I would leave hungrier than I had arrived. Long lines out the door at about 4:15 p.m. told me that just because the event started at 2 didn’t mean that everyone had already arrived. Things were not looking good for mac and cheese tasting.

Of 25 cheese n’ noodle vendors I tried three samples of mac and cheese. Burton’s Grill ended up winning “best local ingredient mac” and with pickled collard greens, brie, and house-cured hot sauce, I can readily agree to its superiority. But then again, it was only superior to the other two samples I had. Vendors were running out of product left and right, with some offering cheese sauce as a consolation prize.

I spoke to Alyssa Smith of A Snappy Event, the organizer of the Mac Off, to get a little insight into the food shortage.

“We had way, way more people than last year. It was way more than we expected,” she said. Last year the Mac Off hosted about 6,000 cheese fiends at the Grove. This year A Snappy Event estimates that 8,000 people showed up. Smith says that with the Be More Tea festival, various races, and other events going on throughout the Lowcountry, she assumed that not as many people would make it to the Grove.

Smith says that A Snappy Event asked each restaurant to prepare 3,000-4,000 samples of macaroni, with the assumption that each guest wouldn’t try every mac and cheese. Unfortunately, under the voting area of the event’s website, a description read: “each attendee will have the opportunity to savor 25 delectable macaroni and cheese samples and cast a vote for their favorite at the end of the event.” Smith says that “you’re usually full after five or six samples,” (which is probably true) — but that doesn’t line up with what the site promises.

Smith says that the event organizers are already looking for next year’s venue, mentioning Boone Hall as an option. She readily admits that the event could use some improvements; in addition to moving to a larger venue she says that A Snappy Event will “better prepare or put a cap on the number of people” in the coming years. She also says that people with leftover tasting tickets can bring their tickets to use at next year’s event.

I appreciate that Mac Off recognizes the need for improvement, but after six years I wonder why they hadn’t thought of these things sooner. Handing my beautiful, cheesy, noodly plate of what would have been my fourth sample to the sad-eyed girl next to me was soul-satisfying. The music was great. The drink line was short (enough).

But then I thought about how much money was flowing all around me. I spoke to Lowcountry Local First, the nonprofit beneficiary of the event to see how much dough they get from the Mac Off. The golden figure? $3,000, flat rate. Jordan Amaker of LLF told me that this isn’t always the norm — sometimes events will give nonprofits a proceed of ticket sales and sometimes they just hit them with a flat rate.

Smith said that 3,400 people bought advance tickets — that’s $10 a pop (or more if we’re talking VIP, but let’s keep it simple) times 3,400 = $34,000. Let’s say 4,000 people walked through the door on Saturday. Tickets were $15 on the day of sale so that’s another $60,000. We’re at $94,000 as a very low estimate. Who needs to get paid?

The bands. 
The venue. According to Patriots Point event manager Bobby Kotlowski the standard Grove rental price is $3,000.
The restaurants don’t get paid, they’re just there to show off the mac and cheese.
A Snappy Event. Are y’all hiring?

Read this article for a larger scale perspective of where food festival money goes. 

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