Is the Great Googa Mooga Doomed?

After a promising start, this weekend's festival ended with another disaster. How the organizers respond will demonstrate how serious they are about coming back.

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Whether you love or hate the concept of a massive, for-profit music-and-food festival in a public space, we can all agree on one thing: The Great Googa Mooga cannot catch a break. Last year, logistical problems—not enough food, interminable lines, poor organization—set off a media frenzy that seemed destined to shame Superfly, the production company behind the event, out of town. But the team was persistent in its conviction that the idea had legs, and the first two days of this past weekend’s festivals proved that they had successfully worked out a lot of the kinks. Yes, it drizzled a bit and some lines were long, but most reports we heard from festival-goers and vendors was much more positive than lat year (see Eater’s snapshots from the “Good Day”). People ate well, had fun, and listened to some mediocre music—what more can you ask for?

But then disaster struck, yet again: At the eleventh hour, organizers cancelled Sunday’s event during the morning downpours, citing concerns about public safety and potential damage to Prospect Park. Suddenly, ticketholders who had trekked out to the park were left out in the cold, and restaurants found themselves sitting on a huge stockpile of food that they planned to sell on the day. Andrew Carmellini of the Dutch tweeted that he had 3,000 portions of ribs (he later suggested that he would be donating them to City Harvest). The Brindle Room noted that its burger preparation had left it $15K in the hole. And plenty of other vendors, including Christophe Hill of Northern Spy Food Co., expressed  concernsabout how the cancellation affected their accounting. Many had created special menu items specifically for the festival, and they were left with way too much perishable food to shift in their own restaurants. (Check out Grubstreet’s list of vendors if you want to show your support this week.)

The immediate question yesterday and today is how to properly deal with the concerns of the vendors and festivalgoers. So far, organizers have announced that they are refunding VIP tickets, as well as unused beer and wine tickets.

Meanwhile, the vendors received the following memo from Superfly regarding issues of food waste and financial losses, shared with us by an anonymous source:

Hi everyone,

We appreciate your patience and your cooperation as we work through the challenges that today’s cancellation presents. We recognize that you have dedicated a significant amount of time and financial resources to be a part of GoogaMooga. We are committed to making this right. Rest assured that your partnership is important to us and, as we’ve said throughout this process, we are in this together.

We will not be holding settlement appointments at the site tomorrow so that we don’t take up more of your valuable time and can instead focus on gathering the information we need to put together a plan for addressing your concerns. We will, of course, still be available throughout the day at the site if you would like to talk with us as, or after, you complete your load out. If you are not able to come to the site tomorrow we will reach out by phone. Additionally, representatives from Classic Party Rental will be on-site throughout the day tomorrow to address your questions and concerns about your invoices with them.

In order for us to formulate a plan, it is important to have a comprehensive picture and understand all of your expenses. To this end, please gather information on your sales numbers for both Friday and Saturday (many of you have submitted them already — thank you) as well as information on the expenses that you have incurred in preparation for GoogaMooga. We’ll be sharing a form under separate cover for you to provide this information.

Tomorrow’s load out plans will go forward as scheduled (excepting the settlement appointments) starting at 8:00 a.m. We appreciate your help in making this go as smoothly as possible while maintaining the integrity of the park. Please reach out if you have any questions about the logistics of loading out your remaining equipment and food tomorrow.

Thanks,

From the entire GoogaMooga Team

How Superfly handles this part of the problem will likely demonstrate how serious they are about ever coming back to Brooklyn to find out if the third time’s the charm. On the one hand, vendors were out there trying to make money—most food festivals don’t let chefs and restaurants actually sell and make profit from their food, they’re simply showcases promising exposure—and no one can predict bad weather. It’s risky to do an outdoor food festival, just like it’s risky to open a restaurant in the first place. Still, the seeming lack of a contingency plan from Superfly is worrisome, and it brings back ghosts of last year’s logistical debacle.

As the dust settles and these practical matters are ironed out, the bigger question—raised most saliently thus far by Ryan Sutton of the Bad Deal—is whether New York needs this festival in the first place:

Maybe GoogaMooga isn’t bringing much added value to our culinary community, because maybe GoogaMooga is acting less like a curator, finding stuff from far away that we wouldn’t have found ourselves, and instead it’s acting more like an aggregator of stuff we already know about?

Maybe restaurants will realize this could all be harmful to their brands and harmful long established customer relationships?

He’s got a point. Even if you subscribe to the idea that most people can’t afford to eat at all of these restaurants so it’s nice for them to be able to experience the food in one place at a fraction of the cost, the fact is that NYC is already teeming with similar opportunities, like Smorgasburg, Hester Street Fair, and countless other weekly markets. And since they are not on the scale of Googa Mooga, the risks of betting it all on one weekend and losing are greatly mitigated.

So, to recap: Last year was a shit show. This year, a lot of people actually had a good time, but weather ruined the chances of a redemptive weekend and shifted the conversation back to a blame game, and a debate about whether this festival brings enough value to the table. At this point, good will for the event is hemorrhaging fast, so if Superfly really stands by what its press director Paul Nelson has said—”We’re coming from a place that we really want to do something special and something that the community can be proud of, and come out to this beautiful park and celebrate and support all of these local businesses”—it’ll need to prove it with some serious damage control in the coming days. Paying the Prospect Park alliance more than $75,000 is probably a good idea too.

What do you think? Did Friday and Saturday prove Googa Mooga’s worth, or should it clean up its mess and move along once and for all?

  • TK41c

    Bye, Superfly. Back to Tennessee, goobers. If you’re going to be in NYC, decamp to Coney Island or parks in Williamsburg or vacant lots in the hipster paradise of Bushwick. Better yet, sequester yourselves on Governors’ Island. And it’s criminal that the Prospect Park Alliance reportedly only gets $75K for park remediation, as opposed to $100K last year. Criminals – Googa Mooga should be on Rikers Island.

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