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How Visionary Leaders Transform Curiosity Into Groundbreaking Ideas Lee Brian Schrager, founder of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, discusses the spark that launched FoodieCon, his best practices for running popular food events, and why all business owners need to adapt to social media trends.

By Shawn P. Walchef Edited by Dan Bova

Key Takeaways

  • FoodieCon came to fruition when Lee Schrager’s curiosity met his intuition and urgency. While hosting the New York Wine & Food Festival, he noticed a sponsor using influencers to attract visitors and immediately ideated an event surrounding influencer involvement.
  • Integrating social media influencers into live events brings a powerful way to boost awareness, impact and relevance.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lee Brian Schrager has a knack for turning curiosity into groundbreaking ideas.

As the Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Lee Schrager is also the founder of the South Beach and New York Wine & Food Festivals (powered by The Food Network). His latest brainchild, FoodieCon, is reshaping the food festival experience by integrating social media influencers and staying ahead of industry trends.

Related: How This Couple Transformed a Gas Station Kitchen Into a Legendary BBQ Destination

"I remember standing at our New York festival two years ago and just talking to some people and saying to myself, 'Wow, what is that long line of people at Capital One's tent?'" he told Restaurant Influencers host Shawn Walchef of Cali BBQ Media. It turned out that they were featuring a few influencers who were well-known in the food space. "I said to myself right then and there, we really need to do something with influencers. And I said, we should call this FoodieCon if the name's available. That was on a Saturday. By Monday, I already owned the name."

Despite the initial uncertainty, FoodieCon, which is a part of his wine and food festivals, has since sold out, proving the concept's immense appeal. In the rapidly evolving landscape of social media, Schreger emphasizes the importance of listening and adapting, a mindset that has allowed his events to stay relevant and innovative, leveraging platforms like Instagram and TikTok to connect with audiences.

Expanding the Wine & Food Festival

Lee Shrager's flexibility and strategic mindset were further highlighted when plans for a Los Angeles festival shifted focus to New York. Initially preparing to launch a festival in LA, Schrager pivoted under his boss's direction to prioritize the New York market, which Southern Glazer's was entering. This shift paid off, as the New York festival has thrived in one of the historically toughest markets.

Related: The Restaurateur Who Created a Safe Space for Celebrities to Eat in Peace in NYC

"We were seconds away from launching in LA, so I was happy to kind of refocus my energy into New York, one of the toughest cities to do anything," he notes. "The New York festival just celebrated its 16th year in October."

The recent inception of FoodieCon is a testament to Schrager's intuitive thinking and proactive approach.

While overseeing the New York Wine and Food Festival, Schreger noticed a vendor sponsor drawing increased traffic by implementing notable social media figures, such as GrossyPelosi and Brunch with Babs. Schrager quickly realized the potential of an event centered around influencer engagement.

Lee Brian Schrager's journey with the Wine and Food Festivals and FoodieCon exemplifies his ability to transform insights into impactful initiatives. "In order to be a good communicator, you need to listen to people," he asserts. "I think you need to be open to criticism. I think you need to be open to suggestions on how to do it differently. You need to be open to change. I think change is really important just to stay current with the trends."

Related: How Do You Start a Successful Restaurant? Obsess Over the Tiniest Details, Says This Entrepreneurial Chef.

By integrating influencer culture, implementing strategic pivots, and having a deep understanding of effective communication, Schrager continues to set new standards of excellence and forward-thinking.

About Restaurant Influencers

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Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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