With Aaron Jimenez and Conner Moncrief from Taste of Mexico
Ticketbud Tidbits interview with Taste of Mexico event organizers Aaron Jimenez (Marketing and Membership Associate) and Conner Moncrief (Development Associate) from Mexic-Arte Museum. Hosted by Ticketbud CEO Kayhan Ahmadi.
- Event goals
- Vendor participation
- Event promotion
- Event sponsorship
- Ticketing pricing
Event: Taste of Mexico
From humble beginnings in 1998, under a different name, Taste of Mexico has evolved from a small community event to an experience more and more people are excited about participating in. The culture and cuisine of this event is an extension of what the Mexic-Arte Museum brings to the Austin community.
This annual Austin food festival brings together inspired executions of Mexican cuisine from over 35 central Texas restaurants, food trucks, and vendors. Paired with a diverse bar of fine Tequilas, Mezcales, wines, beers, and other refreshments. This year’s festival features a variety of interactive activities and demonstrations exploring the influence of Puebla in Mexican cuisine.
Aaron and Connor explain how the event showcases the diversity and intricacy of Mexican cuisine, rebelling against the idea that Mexican food is just Tex-Mex. They have curated the best of Mexican food that Austin has to offer. People can expect to see some of the bigger name Mexican restaurants they are familiar with, as well as discovering amazing smaller restaurants and food trucks they perhaps haven’t come across.
The event shows that Mexican food is of the people, it’s influenced by region, family histories and ingredients. It isn’t static, it evolves and continues to change over time. Part of the experience of this event from year to year it that there will continue to be new interpretations of this delicious cuisine.
Wednesday May 1st 2019, 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Brazos Hall – 204 E 4th St, Austin, TX
Event Organization: The Mexic-Arte Museum
The Mexic-Arte Museum is located on 5th and Congress in Austin, Texas. Founded in 1984 by three artists, Sylvia Orozco, Sam Coronado, and Pio Pulido to share the art and culture of Mexico with Texas.
The Museum is a non-profit organization with the mission of cultural enrichment and education through the collection, preservation and presentation of traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture. The museum exhibits art by established and emerging artists and also hosts events during the year such as Taste of Mexico and Day of the Dead festival.
Kayhan: Welcome to Tidbits at Ticketbud, the podcast all about events and event organizers, for event organizers.
My name is Kayhan Ahmadi, CEO of Ticketbud. Today, we’re going to talk with Aaron and Conner, from Mexic-Arte, about their upcoming event, Taste of Mexico, which is happening Wednesday May 1st, here in Austin, Texas. We’re going to talk about everything going on with their event, as well as just organizing events in general, the ups and downs of events, and best practices.
Aaron, Conner, thanks so much for being in the office today. First of all, tell us a little bit about Mexic-Arte Museum, the organization that you guys work with. And give us some background. Let the audience kind of get a better understanding of what you guys are doing.
Connor: Hey, this is Connor. The Mexic-Arte Museum was founded in 1984 by three artists; Sylvia Orozco, Pio Pulido and Sam Coronado. They came to central Texas, and specifically Austin, with the mission to collect, preserve and educate people about Mexican and Latinx art and culture. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 34 years on the corner of 5th and Congress, downtown.
Aaron: With that, we try to do different things through the museum, to educate people. We have, of course, the Taste of Mexico Festival. It’s a culinary arts festival we hold every year. From there, we have our Day of the Dead parade. We have exhibitions, programs, and our education program.
So, you could say there’s something going around, all year round.
Kayhan: Taste of Mexico, one of Mexic-Arte’s signature events. What can an attendee expect from Taste of Mexico this year? Teach us a little bit about this event. What’s going on? What are you guys putting together for us here?
Connor: At this event, we want to bring together about 50 vendors, all kinds of food, drinks, desserts, to really celebrate the intricacy and the breadth of Mexican cuisine. It’s something that kind of gets glossed over as quesadillas or Tex-Mex, or just something to pour queso on top of.
We really want to rebel against that idea at the Taste of Mexico, and show people what all they can have, and what is from Mexico, that they might not even realize.
Aaron: The event is held Wednesday, May 1st, at Brazos Hall. With that, what we try to do is really spotlight the diversity of the cuisine here in Austin. So, we feature chefs, we feature desserts, as Connor said. The tequilas, mescals.
One of the things that we try to do is really show how the cuisine has changed, and how different people are doing Mexican cuisine in Austin, from something like Tex-Mex to something that’s more faithful to different regions.
Like ATX Cocina does things faithful to central Mexico. The same with Licha’s, while there’s Serrano’s, Mari’s, that do something that’s more conventional in terms of like Tex-Mex, that we see here more prominently.
Kayhan: Taste of Mexico has evolved over the years. This is obviously not the first Taste of Mexico. It’s an annual event. How long has Taste of Mexico been going on? How many years have you guys been putting this together, as an organization? Where has it evolved from, and where are you guys trying to take it?
Connor: Taste of Mexico began under different auspices, in 1998. We’ve been doing it for 19 years now. 21? I’m bad at math. For 21 years now. We really wanted to take it from a kind of smaller community event to something that people could be really excited about, and want to come out to and experience culture, cuisine, and see that as an extension of the museum and what we bring to the community.
Aaron: I think an important thing to note from here is that there are already some amazing food festivals in Austin. You think like Hot Luck, that just launched a few years back. You think Austin Food and Wine. And they’re amazing, you know.
But off the top of my head, I can’t think of an amazing Mexican Food Festival. Maybe there is, but I eat plenty of Mexican food. You’d think I would know by now.
With that in mind, for us, the goal would be to establish the preeminent Mexican food festival in the southwest, where people really want to engage the culture and the cuisine from there. We really show, I guess we amplify all of these diverse stories, and people can go and engage in it in a meaningful manner.
Kayhan: Aaron, that’s a great point. Growing up here in Austin, living in Austin, Mexican food is almost taken for granted. There’s a lot of kind of Tex-Mex Mexican food that a lot of people are more familiar with, as opposed to the true interior Mexican cuisine, or different regional cuisines of Mexico.
And you’re right. There really isn’t a festival that celebrates the diversity of Mexican cuisine, that I’ve been to or experienced, at least in Austin.
As a museum, as a cultural center, how important are these types of paid events, to help your mission statement, and help power it, and fund the programs that you guys put on in the local community? What does this event mean for your mission?
Connor: All of the profits from Taste of Mexico go directly into our upcoming exhibition season for the following year, and our education programs at the museum. It costs money to put these events on, so we do try and raise that to cover it. But then, the rest of it, off the top, just goes straight back into the community.
It’s something that people can feel good about attending, experiencing culture and all of this amazing food. But also knowing that their dollars are going straight back into the community.
Aaron: To add to that, it’s a great way for us to engage the community. I think that a lot of times, when people think of a museum, sometimes it might seem as an esoteric place, or something that’s hard to engage. Once you’re in the museum walls, it’s different.
The experience is different for everybody else, but to have a Mexican food festival and engage people through food, there’s a personal element to it. When people engage that, and they engage the museum through that, it’s a lot easier to connect with them after that, through everything else that we do throughout the year.
But again, like I say this, you give me food, I’m going to love you! It’s just how it is. And I don’t think that’s unique to me.
Kayhan: Obviously, we can expect some of the stalwarts of the local Austin Mexican culinary scene here. But Taste of Mexico is more than just big signature restaurants. You’re bringing in different restaurants, different size restaurants, fine dining to food trailers that are knocking something out of the park, that are really, really specific in their offering.
So, in addition to just celebrating local cuisine, it’s also an opportunity for discovery. If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you can go to Taste of Mexico, – I think Connor, you said there were going to be something like 40-50 different vendors there – and probably find something that you’re not familiar with. Even if you’re the Tex-Mex king or a Mexican food fanatic here in Austin, you’re probably going to find something that you haven’t seen before.
Aaron: Yeah, and I think that speaks to a really interesting point. When you go to Mexico, you see Mexican food happening in the streets. You have street food, you have indigenous people cooking. You have these traditions that are outside of these pristine establishments.
And within that, they do exist there, as well. But I mean, Mexican food is of the people, and with that. For us to be able to bridge the gap here in Austin, to put something like an ATX Cocina or a Comedor next to a Pueblo Viejo or a Tacos Guerrero, and just have them side by side, and people just try them both and say “Hey, they are all doing amazing things.”
One of them is a beautiful restaurant, and the other one is a little taco truck you just walk up to and say “Hey, give me,” whatever this taco is. So, it really is unique, in that we’re constantly bridging gaps through this.
Kayhan: So, Taste of Mexico, all about food, all about bringing different restaurants together. How do you bring these different restaurants? How do you create this restaurant participation? And what’s the mutual upside? Obviously, this benefits the local community and benefits Mexic-Arte, and people can come in and have an awesome time.
But also, you’re asking these food vendors, these restaurants, to come in and participate. They’re getting something out of this, too, right? It’s not just out of good will. They’re getting something, whether it’s the small guy that’s getting discoverability, or the big guy. For an ATX Cocina or a Fonda San Miguel, what are these guys getting out of this experience?
Aaron: One of my favorite things about this event is that there is a true one to one connection between the attendees and the chefs. I myself have gone in the past few years, and I’ve had direct conversations with the head chefs at these restaurants, the women who run them, just about their favorite thing to make and their favorite thing to give to other people, and cook for them.
I think that’s something really beautiful. Most of the time, I didn’t even realize that I was having this one to one human connection with the head honcho of this restaurant. So, I’ve kind of built those friendships with the brand, almost, and been able to go in and see the person behind this beautiful, immaculate machine.
The way we kind of formed this process is interesting, because a lot of it is, who are the big names? Who are the most high profile people? But we also have our personal picks of saying, like “Hey, I love this taco truck. Is there any way we can get them in? These people are doing something amazing that I know about. Maybe not everybody else does, but they need to know about it.”
Connor: Absolutely. And I think that one of the important things with that is that as we discuss how these restaurants communicate with people and that, a lot of times people go to restaurants, whether it’s ATX Cocina or – again, we keep mentioning them as kind of one of the busier ones in town. People go, they have a great experience.
But they don’t get to connect with the chef. They have the food and it’s amazing, and then they move on. For the people that are participating restaurants, it is a really authentic way to communicate with audiences in a very direct way, in ways that you can’t replicate that in the restaurant, unless you go at a really slow time.
So, it is very authentic, in that sense.
Kayhan: Expanding upon that, one of the things that we see in our industry, in the ticketing industry, especially with these larger brands, is they’re looking at events as a way to create engagement. Right? Like you said, there’s these smaller taco trucks, and this event for them is all about discovery, expanding the audience that they can reach.
But for the established brands, it’s connecting more directly with the consumer, and creating that one to one exchange.
Switching gears a little bit, we talked a lot about Mexic-Arte, we talked about Taste of Mexico, and what you can expect. Let’s talk about the perspective of the event organizer. What have been some of the ways that you guys have effectively promoted Taste of Mexico, and helped create an audience, and helped get the word out about this event?
Aaron: There’s a couple of things. Right now, people talk about influencer marketing, and you rely on influencers to tell the story of your brand or whatever it is that you’re working on. For us, it was working collaboratively with the chefs.
We really did want to rely on them as advocates for the festival. Who better to talk about the festival than the people that are participating in that, and amplify what you’re doing? They have been great. They are very supportive.
With that, they help us spread the word. From there, we’ve kind of – I guess we’re jumping on this chef’s table craze, in that we’re creating these little micro-documentaries with five of the featured chefs.
What they’re doing, we’re featuring Puebla. We’re just going, we’re chatting with them, and we’re just letting them discuss their influences, the things that informed their understanding of the cuisine. Things where they see the cuisine going, or the culinary scene in Austin going.
We’ve started releasing those through our Facebook, our YouTube page. You’ll see Daniel Brooks from Licha’s. You’ll see Allie McMillan from ATX Cocina, Gabe Erales from Comedor, Margarita Mendez from Pueblo Viejo, and Abril Galindo from the Four Seasons.
Again, for us, it’s a way to, I guess work collaboratively, for the chefs to tell these stories.
Kayhan: That’s a great strategy. We’re in this age right now, of content and content creation, and leveraging content creation for promotion. So, that’s a great piece of advice. We talk about this in other podcasts and other blogs, specifically for our event organizers on our platform, that one of the great ways to build a growing audience, or to grow your audience, is to create content around your event, and utilize and leverage the content that your event is.
Like you guys are creating these little five-minute documentaries, all about these famous chefs. Well, it’s a food festival. People want to connect with these chefs. People want to get some sort of deeper understanding and connection. It’s a great opportunity to create some sort of content, and create a narrative and a story around that.
You were touching on that earlier. What have been some of the challenges this year, producing the event? Every event organizer has some hurdle to get through, has some challenge. What have been some of the difficulties this year, that you guys have gotten over?
Connor: One of the big things that, as a fundraiser, I’m focused on making sure that the event is extremely profitable for the museum, and ultimately our education and exhibition programs. This is a vehicle for us to bring culture to the community in a variety of different ways.
One of the big things that I’ve been doing is reaching out and creating sort of relationships with our sponsors, and getting so that each party can get the most out of this relationship, and provide a service for them, help them reach the people that they want to reach, in the creative and interesting ways that they want to reach them.
Kind of revamping and revitalizing the sponsorship program for Taste of Mexico has been a unique challenge for me. We also would like to expand our audiences beyond our core museum audience. So, one of the things I’ve been doing is reaching out to our downtown neighbors and saying “Hey, come on in. Check us out. We do this awesome art, but we also put on these amazing events, so come out and see that.” And get them plugged in, all the way to the museum.
Kayhan: Yeah, sponsorships; really, really important for any event organizer. A great way to help offset, defer some of the costs. How important is creating a sponsorship program, to a successful growing event, or to an institution like Mexic-Arte, that puts on several events a year? What advice could you give to other event organizers, when they’re just starting to think about “Do I need a sponsorship program? How do I?”
What’s step one? Because it’s this big, daunting thing. You already have these existing relationships. You already have this compelling brand. What piece of advice could you give to an event organizer that’s looking to start out?
Connor: I start every conversation with our potential sponsors with the same question, and that’s “How can this be the best event for you? How can we create a relationship that gives us both exactly what we want?”
After we suss out those details; who they’re trying to reach, how they’re trying to reach them, we go from there. And I have my own set of sponsorship levels, the basics, but I really want to create tailored packages for people, that help them get exactly what they want, and meets those audiences.
Kayhan: Taste of Mexico, like you said, it’s an annual event. It’s been going on since 1998. It’s been a big part of Mexic-Arte. With all annual events, you have kind of this intrinsic challenge, where your audience, your core audience has a certain expectation about what this event is, because they’ve been to it in the past.
But you as an event organizer, you want to grow the event. You want to increase revenues from the event, to fund your mission statement. How do you balance that? How do you balance a customer’s set expectations with driving innovation and creating new engagement?
Aaron: With that, I think you really have to have a direction for what it is that you’re doing. For us, it was really important that we spoke to the diversity of the cuisine in Austin. And of course, that’s always how the festival will be oriented. But with that, you are able to engage that in different ways.
Last year, we did indigenous influences in Mexican cuisine. We wanted to have the story-telling component. We wanted to say “Okay, this is the way that corn is part of Mexican cuisine. This is the way that agave is part of Mexican cuisine.”
So again, it’s oriented in that way. But then, it shifts. When people come back this year, again, they’re engaging the diversity of the cuisine. But now, this year we’re doing the influence of Puebla, Mexico in Mexican cuisine. So, it’s not just mole.
As people come, they can really delve into that. They have experts, people that are actually not only speaking to that, but actually creating cuisine, and actually letting them experience that on their own. I think that’s a valuable thing, to say “Hey, we’re engaging story-telling, beyond just something visual.” It’s like it’s a visceral thing, from there.
Connor: To kind of piggy-back on that theme of Puebla, one of the beautiful things about the cuisine in Puebla is that it was sort of a mixing pot of cultures in Mexico. There’s French influences, there’s Middle Eastern influences, there’s Spanish influences. Really, it’s a beautiful fusion of culture that we’re trying to display through the event.
Aaron: And I think to finally add to your add-on, to be honest, one of the biggest misconceptions of, honestly, any cuisine – not just Mexican cuisine – is that these are static cuisines, in that Mexican cuisine is this one thing, and that’s it. Not only in terms of space and history, but in terms of time, where it doesn’t evolve from there.
For us, it’s really important that we show the evolution of the cuisine, that we show it’s fluid, and it’s informed by region, which is a big thing. Ingredients, family histories. And from there, you see that it’s constantly changing. With that, what you engage, in terms of Mexican cuisine right now, it’s going to be different from what you engage 10, 15, 20 years from now.
That’s what’s exciting about it. Even though it’s familiar, it’s also different.
Kayhan: That’s a great answer. You’re trying to evolve this event year over year, and the event is all about Mexican cuisine. And within that Mexican cuisine, there’s this huge, rich, vast world of different regions, or different themes and elements that you can focus on for an annual basis, to create something new, and create a new narrative year over year.
One of the questions we like to ask event organizers, that’s a challenge for any event and any event organizer, is how do you determine ticket pricing, especially for an event like this, where you want to obviously fund and create revenue for all of these amazing programs that you do. But at the same time, you want to drive a big audience.
How do you guys think about ticket pricing? And how do you evolve that over time?
Connor: The relationship between profitability and accessibility is a huge one, and one that we really want to, honestly, side on the side of accessibility for. So, we take a look at our annual budget for Taste of Mexico. We look at our ticket sales the previous year, and our sponsorships the previous year. And we say “How can we meaningfully and realistically grow these to this year?”
Then, we take these ticket prices and we just basically mark them as aggressively low as we can, to make the event accessible to anybody who would want to come. Our ticket prices sit this year at $65, which is, I would say very low, compared to many of the other food festivals of this caliber, in Austin.
Aaron: With that, it is important, you know. Connor talks about accessibility. But with that, we have to say that it’s about engagement. We don’t want people not to engage, not only not Taste of Mexico and the chefs, but Mexic-Arte, because they’re put off by a really big price.
The goal is to continuously engage people in Mexican and Latin American culture, you know, and for them to really delve into it, and experience it in its different forms. So for us as a museum, we have varied programming, whether it’s our Day of the Dead Festival, receptions, gallery showings. We’ve had music at the museum, you know.
Back in the day, we used to have theatre shows there, you know. Yeah, and punk shows. Maybe you can have our Executive Director come on, and she can tell you more about that.
But with that, the whole point is that you’re engaging all of these different examples of aesthetic expressions of Mexican culture in all its different iterations. For us, we want to make it accessible. We want people to engage it.
Kayhan: Having gone to a bunch of different food festivals, and been an attendee, $65 is really, really affordable for what you’re getting, because you’re getting some top tier restaurants. You’re inside an air-conditioned environment. You’re not outside in a trailer park that has lines that are 50 people deep, waiting for a tiny little sample, while you’re in the hot Texas heat.
So, I definitely appreciate what you guys are doing, and the pricing that you’re creating, to really get a lot of participation from the local community.
Proceeds from Taste of Mexico benefit Mexic-Arte Museum’s art education programs, like the Screen It! program. I think our audience would really love to hear more about the Screen It! program, and what your mission is doing, and some of the positive outcomes that you’re getting out of this program.
What are their tickets going to? What does going to Taste of Mexico, buying a ticket, what is that turning into, in the local community?
Connor: That’s one of my favorite things about this event, and working at the museum, is that Taste of Mexico supports our education and our exhibition programs. One of our favorites is Screen It! It brings screen printers, people who walk the walk, and make their own living through screen printing, into these underserved schools in the Dove Springs area of Austin.
They teach kids, after school, screen printing methods, and a little bit of marketing and entrepreneurship skills, so that they can not only create and express themselves creatively, but they have a chance to create their own business or market their own work, or have a little side hustle, after they’re done with school.
So, when you’re walking into this amazing experience, there’s booths, there’s food, there’s tequila, there’s mescal, there’s a DJ, there’s Mariachis. You’re also giving straight back to your community, and helping support some of the most vulnerable people in Austin.
We actually received an award in 2016, from Michelle Obama; the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. We’re super proud of that!
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