The Good, the Bao, and the Ugly at Downtown Phoenix Food Fest

Baos were too popular at the first Arizona Bao Fest.
Baos were too popular at the first Arizona Bao Fest. Michael Stern / Flickr

Disappointed attendees created a mini-firestorm on social media after the first Arizona Bao Fest in downtown Phoenix on Saturday.

As many as 3,000 people attended the event at Unexpected Art Gallery on Polk Street and dozens of them complained on Arizona Bao Fest’s Facebook page about the long lines, the lack of food, the number of actual bao vendors, the parking, the way tickets were presold, and even the sunshine.

Amanda Rogers’ post was typical:

“The lines for all vendors were very long and moved slowly, and the lines for the vendors who actually sold bao were astronomical. The line for the vendor selling steamed bao xi was over an hour long. When I waited in that line and came to the front, I was told that the meat bao were completely sold out and that I would need to wait a further thirty minutes for the one I wanted.”

Organizer Jason Kwan acknowledged the multiple problems, also via the Facebook event page: “We read your feedback and looked at the posts and comments…. We got sunburned, too!"

“We totally understand it was disappointing the food lines were long during the middle of the day,” Kwan continued. “We said the multiple ticket times were to help reduce the wait time. … our mistake was not realizing vendors couldn't cook food fast enough! So that kind of snowballed when people coming later in the event had to wait longer since the people who came earlier haven't gotten their food yet."

People may have been expecting fast food like they get at many festivals. But this was an attempt to do something different.

“Baos are handmade and take a lot of labor/time to let the dough rise, make the shapes, etc.,” Kwan noted. “We communicated with the local businesses on a weekly basis how much interest was in the event, but we didn't know how much to prepare! As an event, we ate over 7,000 bao! Wow! The businesses tried to bring as much bao as possible, but you can only make so much and they didn't know what to expect from a first time event!”

Parking was also a problem for many.

Virginia Wyatt wrote on Facebook: “The parking setup was a nightmare. No tickets avail at door. Limiting tickets also limits profits. Your loss. Ended up taking my whole group to Dim Sum instead. Much better experience there!”

Again, Kwan apologized.

*Parking was bad! We're sorry! We thought the street parking and lot would be enough. Yes, you would have to walk a little further if you didn't park on Polk and Taylor. Next time, we will have to get a better solution and yes the long food lines created a snowball effect. More cars parked and less people leaving, etc.”

He said in a Facebook message to Phoenix New Times that they would like to do the festival again next year “at a bigger venue with more vendors.”

And at least one attendee hopes that’s the case.

“Despite all of the very apparent issues we were still happy we went,” Peter Badawy wrote. “Hopefully next year there will be a bit more of a culturally Asian vibe and more authentic bao options. If AZ Bao Fest can keep improving this event it has the potential to be a lot of fun.”

Full disclosure: New Times gave away several promotional tickets to the event.
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Stuart Warner is editor of New Times. He has been a journalist since the stoned ages of 1969, playing a major role on teams that won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is also the author of the biography JOCK: A Coach's Story.
Contact: Stuart Warner