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October 26, 2015

'Cheesestink' festival: Was inaugural Philly cheesesteak festival a flop?

Readers complain about no food, long lines at poorly planned festival

Tickets for the city's first ever cheesesteak festival may have sold out over this past weekend, but PhillyVoice readers say that the event was poorly planned, leading to long lines and limited access to the city's signature sandwich. 

"[It was] absolutely organization, no constructed lines," PhillyVoice reader Bob Keener said in an email. 

Keener said he paid more than $70, including parking costs to attend the festival, held Oct. 24 at Lincoln Financial Field, and didn't get a promised t-shirt or even a cheesesteak.

Instead, Keener said he got "not one sample" of cheesesteaks because of long, unorganized lines.

Tickets for the festival sold out, and many ticket packages promised 20 sandwich samples, a T-shirt and special seating.

PhillyVoice reader Jim Ozzimo said he attended the festival and felt the event left "thousands of people totally unsatisfied." 

"You and other media should hold these organizers responsible," he wrote. 

Ozzimo said he went with a group that bought the "the works" ticket package for $69 each and were promised 20 cheesesteak samples. Instead, unorganized lines with wait times of 45 minutes to an hour-long for a single sample, Ozzimo said, led to "total chaos." 

"We stayed for almost [two] hours and only got to sample [one] vendor which was a cheesesteak fried egg roll. Never even got a [sniff] of a true cheesesteak," he wrote. "The organizers should be held responsible as well as the sponsors and vendors."

Organizer Kevin Baxter said that with a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 in attendance, some wait for cheesesteaks was inevitable.

"We did everything we could," he said. "But, when you have that many people, there are going to be lines."

Baxter said that he was working to appease attendees who were unhappy with their experience, personally contacting at least 300.

"We've done everything in our power to reach out," he said. "We want to make it right for people."

Baxter also noted that the festival raised funds for pediatric cancer treatment through Alex's Lemonade Stand. "We hope we can help make a difference," he said.

Organizers also responded to complaints online, saying the long lines at the festival were likely due to the fact that it was the first year for such an event. 

"We appreciate your patience regarding the vendor lines. First-year events are never easy, especially food sampling festivals," organizers wrote on Facebook. "With your support we rallied to raise 16k in the fight against pediatric cancer. The vendors were amazing, and have informative ideas to alleviate wait issues in the future. Every child got in for free (up to age 12) to enjoy the experience. Philadelphia can take pride in the unity that we have for this city and the steak sandwich."

Also, in that online thread, while some criticized festival planning, many responses praised festival organizers, saying the event was worthwhile and they experienced few issues in obtaining cheesesteaks. 

"The goal was to help a charity, and we achieved that promise," wrote organizers in response to an online comment.