Fes­ti­val force eyes next year al­ready

The Wellingtonian - - Front Page - ELEANOR WENMAN

She’s got the ‘‘coolest job ever’’.

From a light, airy of­fice in cen­tral Welling­ton, Sarah Meikle and her team run Welling­ton’s big­gest food fes­ti­val, Welling­ton On A Plate (WOAP).

With the fes­ti­val hit­ting its half­way point, her days are pretty full-on. When most peo­ple are clock­ing off work, you can find Meikle get­ting ready to at­tend one of the dozens of events on dur­ing the fes­ti­val.

‘‘If you want to be in events, you can’t be a nine to five per­son,’’ she said.

Meikle has been with WOAP since it started in 2009 as a way to show­case Welling­ton’s culi­nary scene and get peo­ple out in the win­ter months.

In the first year, the fes­ti­val was pulled to­gether in six weeks, with around 30 restau­rants tak­ing part.

This year it has a to­tal of 121 restau­rants, around 140 events, more than 100 burg­ers and 40 cock­tails, all spread out over 17 days in the mid­dle of a gloomy Au­gust.

‘‘One of the key driv­ers be­hind the fes­ti­val is get­ting Welling­ton prod­ucts on the menu,’’ she said.

Whether it’s olives from Grey­town or ba­con from the Hutt Val­ley, Meikle is de­ter­mined to show off the best food Welling­ton has to of­fer.

She has watched the event grow over the last eight years as her team also took over run­ning Beer­vana, a sta­ple in Welling­ton’s craft beer cal­en­dar.

But while WOAP has grown, Meikle’s team has re­mained rela- tively small.

She usu­ally works with three other peo­ple in their of­fices and to pull off a fes­ti­val on the scale of WOAP, they form a ‘‘coali­tion of the will­ing’’.

They work with pub­lic re­la­tions com­pa­nies, lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies and Welling­ton Re­gional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Agency and Meikle said a lot of their time was spent man­ag­ing re­la­tion­ships.

A small team also meant it was ‘‘pretty easy to turn the ship’’ when prob­lems came up.

Meikle pointed to their Dine Welling­ton event as an ex­am­ple. Pre­vi­ously, restau­rants of­fered two cour­ses in a set lunch menu but feed­back af­ter last year’s fes­ti­val showed one course would work bet­ter.

It’s that sort of thing that keeps the event evolv­ing, Meikle said.

‘‘I would be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t think­ing about next year al­ready,’’ she said.

She said plan­ning some­times ex­tended two or three years out.

Welling­ton on a Plate driv­ing force Sarah Meikle, left, and above Dragon­fly’s Crouch­ing Chicken Burger is prov­ing pop­u­lar with pun­ters. PHOTO: MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

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