Meltdown at the Toronto Grilled Cheese Fest
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Meltdown at the Toronto Grilled Cheese Fest

Torontoist was at the now infamous foodie event after the cheese hit the grill, but before the shit hit the fan.

There’s always a calm before a social media shit storm. That was the case for Friday night’s inaugural Toronto Grilled Cheese Fest, an all-you-can-eat soup and sandwich event that promised grilled cheese wonders and delights for the cost of a $45 ticket. Unfortunately, over 2,250 attendees (the official number from organizer Joylister) found themselves enduring hour-long wait times before finally being ushered into Roy Thomson Hall, where they waited in more lines for one quarter of two pieces of bread with various fillings and samples of craft beer and soup. They then took to social media to express levels of fury never before inspired by a Toronto gastronomic gathering.

But before the meltdown, the atmosphere at Roy Thomson Hall was quite jovial. Members of the media were allowed into the venue 30 minutes before the public, passing a long line of early birds already waiting for the doors to open. To get a spot near the front, ticket-holders had arrived 45 minutes before the official start time.

Inside, it was sunny and filled with an alluring scent reminiscent of childhood—although space was a little tight with the 10 sandwich vendors, four soup vendors, five breweries, and several other sponsored booths. It was clear that the grill space at each booth would be bound to cause a few lengthy lineups—but that’s typical of anything from food trucks to Sunday brunch. In fact, at around 7 p.m., many seemed fine with the 10-15-minute wait for a sliver of cheese and bread, and it wasn’t surprising that a growing crowd was filling RTH. The honour of calling oneself a “foodie” often comes with the sacrifice of immediate gratification and a good chunk of cash.

The Toronto Grilled Cheese Fest, though, involved a perfect storm of frustrations and inconveniences, thanks to its poorly chosen venue (RTH, for example, lacks the power necessary to support an appliance-heavy event, and there were intermittent grill-related power failures), lack of organization, a tough-to-swallow ticket price, and weather that made lengthy outdoor wait times especially unpleasant. There must come a time when the centre cannot hold, even if that centre is a delightful mix of havarti and green apple. Some, though, weren’t fazed.

The Big Cheese (official title) at Cheesewerks, Kevin Durkee, stayed positive as the hordes started to descend.

“This is my Super Bowl,” he said, handing out slices of aged cheddar to hungry attendees. “This festival once again shows that Toronto is where trends come to blossom.”

On Sunday, Cheeswerks exchanged festival tickets for one of two sandwiches they’d had on offer Friday night. Joylister itself will be offering refunds, and posted a mea culpa on its Facebook page.

Despite the backlash against the Grilled Cheese Fest, Joylister is already planning PoutineFest 2014, a sequel to its first food fiesta (which had only a 400 ticket capacity, though commenters are saying that event was also oversold). Joylister claims it provides “exclusive events for Foodies in Toronto,” but when the term “foodie” encompasses anyone who rather enjoys the act of eating, especially in large quantities, that’s quite a large pool (keep in mind, everyone’s gotta eat). If Toronto food event organizers could up the “exclusive” factor and reduce ticket numbers, then maybe tasty events wouldn’t fall apart like overstuffed grilled cheese sandwiches.