BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — Attendees of the city’s first-ever African food festival are demanding their money back after what the festival’s organizer called a “chain reaction of unfortunate events.”
Guests at the First Annual African Food Festival — which was held Saturday and Sunday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Duggal Greenhouse and ran between $30 and $150 per ticket — are asking for refunds on social media, saying they were “scammed” after about half of the promised food vendors failed to show up.
Festival-goers are also faulting organizers for holding the event at the greenhouse during a heat wave without a cooling system, saying that some attendees fainted while waiting in long lines for the limited selection of vendors.
One Facebook user called the event an “EPIC DISASTER,” saying, “These SCAM ARTISTS charged people to attend an event in a greenhouse with no air conditioning in the middle of August in 90+ degree weather.”
“Folks were literally on line for an hour because there were practically NO vendors. But not I! We hightailed it out of that sauna after 20 minutes. Someone even passed out!” she wrote.
Others said the event didn’t offer what was advertised, like cooking demos, free food samples, an art gallery, a dance party and a hookah lounge.
“When we got there on Saturday nothing was set up close to 1pm. We had to leave. Because we were trying to hold on to the faith we had in your cause, we returned on Sunday hoping for a change. We were so disappointed. For our $107, we only had 2 samples and no drink. Nothing that was advertised came to fuition [sic],” another Facebook user wrote.
Festival organizer Ishmael Osekre said the mishaps began early Saturday morning, when vendors started opening late because they didn’t have enough time to set up. Osekre said setup began that morning instead of the day before because it was too expensive to rent the greenhouse for an extra day.
“Setting up for a food festival at 3 a.m. that’s at 12 p.m. is just insane,” he said. “That led to a lot of things that caused a chain reaction of unfortunate events.”
Osekre said that out of approximately 25 vendors that signed up for the event, only a dozen made the final list. He said he was forced to shut down several vendors who didn’t have the proper food safety permits, including the city’s ServSafe and Food Handler’s certificates. Some vendors were also uninsured, he said.
“We weren’t duping anyone. We want to share our culture. We wouldn’t deny other vendors the opportunity to be part of the festival,” Osekre said.
“We didn’t want to take chances in food safety because if someone fell sick on the day of the festival that would have been bad.”
Two VIP meals were also canceled after a chef had a cooking accident and couldn’t deliver a $90 African Vegan Brunch and a $150 five-course Pan-African meal, Osekre said.
“It wasn’t her fault, it was our responsibility to figure out a backup plan and that’s something I apologize immensely for,” Osekre said.
Finally, Osekre said he didn’t plan to hire a contractor to set up a cooling system at the greenhouse because the forecast showed rain at the start of the week.
While Osekre said he offered guests free water on the second day of the festival, some Facebook commenters said water ranged between $3 and $5 despite the scorching conditions.
“It was really hot, someone came up to us, asked if we needed water and then told us it wasn't really free — tips are encouraged..,” a Facebook user said.
Osekre said he would offer full refunds for those who paid for the $90 and $150 VIP tickets. As for other the guests, Osekre said he was still consulting with his team to determine whether refunds would be handed out.
Still, some festival-goers, who faulted organizers with poor management, said they would go back again.
“Despite the issues, people were still able to be under one roof and celebrate. It was hot and I paid for a VIP ticket and didn't get any food. However, I will still support our people and help make things right. This wasn't a scam, this was just poorly managed. I'd do it all over again. Much love,” one person wrote.
Meanwhile, 97 people are rallying for a new African Food Festival festival via a Facebook group called "Brainstorming for a Real NYC African Food Festival," as first reported by Gothamist.