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Lee Schrager Probably Didn’t Steal the Idea for the SOBE Wine & Food Festival

Lee Schrager.

Lee Schrager.Photo: Getty Images

When the South Beach Wine & Food Festival gets under way later this week, it will mark the annual fête's tenth anniversary — or will it? Michael Miller of the Miami New Times' Riptide 2.0 blog is throwing out the theory that festival organizer Lee Scharger's "'recipe for success' is more full of shit than a deep-fried Twinkie." (In fact, he uses the same line in a story from yesterday, as well as one that's dated two days from now, February 24.) "The story about this being the tenth anniversary of the festival is laughable," event planner Christopher Perks tells the New Times. "He changed one word in the title, and that was only because I already owned the rights to it." The accusations, straight ahead.

Miller reports that Perks claims to have come up with the idea for a South Florida wine festival in 1990, and called it, as one might, the South Florida International Wine & Food Festival. In 1996, the festival moved to Florida International University — which is still a host and beneficiary of the SOBE Wine & Food Festival — and it took on the name Florida Extravaganza. And it was that event that subsequently became the Schrager-led festival we know today. But! Of the festival in its current form, Perks says, "All the elements were already there: the same sponsors, the same players, everything ... If that's not the South Florida Wine & Food Festival, it sure as hell looks like its twin sister to me."

So what does Schrager have to say about the accusations? He tells the New Times, "My festival didn't start until 2002, so where the fuck was this festival those six years?" It's a weird quote for the New Times to run, actually. That's because, according to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's official site, Schrager knows where the fuck the festival was:

For five years, from 1997-2001, the Florida Extravaganza showcased wines from national and international wineries paired with food from local restaurants and chefs working with students of FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, director of Special Events and Media Relations at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, took the reigns of the one-day festival and brought his vision for the festival to life by relocating it to South Beach.

So, it is the same festival then. Okay. Glad that's straightened out. Perks is apparently upset about the way Schrager depicts the festival's origins in his book, Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook. ("If I'm upset, it's because Lee hasn't been honest about where the festival came from ... I was quite happy to let sleeping dogs lie until I read Lee's book.") So, here's what the book says:

I was hired by Southern Wine & Spirits in 2000 to be their director of media and special events ... Luckily Southern assigned me the task of upgrading a one-day wine tasting, called the Florida Extravaganza ... the event attracted 600 people and raised $30,000. I took one look and knew it had huge potential.

Then is the issue just that Schrager isn't telling people that the Florida Extravaganza began life as the South Florida International Wine & Food Festival, which has a name that's similar to the festival's current name? We might have to side with Schrager here. After all, if you're holding a festival for wine and food in South Florida, what else are you supposed to call it? And it's hard to deny that Schrager is the man responsible for turning the festival into the huge extravaganza it is today.

Lee Schrager Lying About Origin of South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Claims Ex-Boss [Riptide 2.0/Miami New Times]

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