New Owner’s Revamp Portland’s Food and Drink Festival
For the past eight years, Portland has enticed discerning epicureans from around the world with the annual autumnal food gala known as Harvest on the Harbor. This October, the festival’s new organizers hope to bring more Mainers to their home-state party with a locally focused marketing campaign and a revised lineup of events, including a sustainable seafood soiree and a lobster tasting focused on appreciation, rather than competition.
Stefanie Manning and Gabrielle Garofalo are the duo behind this year’s Harvest on the Harbor. They met while working at Newsweek two decades ago; Manning subsequently spent 13 years creating events for O, The Oprah Magazine, while Garofalo launched her own marketing and branding business in New York City, consulting with clients such as CNN, Vanity Fair, and W Magazine.
Originally from New York, Manning first visited Maine in the mid-1990s with her husband, Tom, who was raised on Munjoy Hill in Portland. “I knew this was a place that eventually I wanted to come and live and raise a family,” says Manning. “The first time I was here, I remember walking around the Old Port and being fascinated with the development that was going on.”
In 2008, Tom and Stefanie Manning purchased the Miss Portland Diner from the city of Portland. “That was really when the food scene was taking hold,” says Manning. They left behind jobs in Manhattan and moved to Cape Elizabeth in 2013. Stefanie Manning eventually became the vice president of marketing and circulation at MaineToday Media (the parent company of the Portland Press Herald).
This past February, Manning and Garofalo had the opportunity to purchase Harvest on the Harbor from the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I heard through the grapevine that the Convention and Visitors Bureau was looking to get out of the events business,” says Manning. “Considering my background and passion for bringing people together in an experiential way, I just jumped at it. I was fortunate enough that my friend and business colleague, Gabrielle, wanted to do it with me.”
Harvest on the Harbor has attracted attendees from 32 states and four countries, and
has historically sold out in advance. “The Convention and Visitors Bureau created Harvest on the Harbor as a way to showcase what was going on in the food culture here for people from away,” says Manning. “Their job is to drive tourists to our town, to put people in hotel rooms, to get them into the restaurants and to get them into the retailers. Harvest did that for many years.” The Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau will remain a founding partner until at least 2020.
Manning projects that more than 3,000 people will attend Harvest on the Harbor this year.
All promotion for the events is being targeted to locals via digital marketing and media partnerships with Maine magazine, the Portland Press Herald and Townsquare Media. “In the past, it hadn’t really been marketed as an opportunity to bring the community together to celebrate,” says Manning. “For me, that’s the missing piece,” says Manning. “There are so many people from so many walks of life in so many different parts of Maine who are working hard to keep this food economy growing: what they have built here is incredible.”
For 2016, Harvest on the Harbor will take place from October 20 to 23 at the Portland Company on Fore Street. The festival begins with the Sustainable Seafood Soiree and Supper. Working closely with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Steve and Michelle Corry of Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline restaurants will be “leading the charge” to feature “under- loved” fish from Maine, says Manning. Five Fifty-Five chef de cuisine Kyle Robinson will join chef Melissa Bouchard from DiMillo’s on the Water, chef Andrew Chadwick from Inn by the Sea, and others in assembling passed hors d’oeuvres and a multi-course seated dinner. “I think it’ll be a really great way to start four days of fantastic food events,” says Garofalo, who is working directly with the chefs.
The Maine Lobster Chef Celebration will replace the popular Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition. “What we learned from the community is that local chefs don’t really like to be pitted against each other,” says Garofalo. The event will feature recipes (with wine and beer pairings) from more than a dozen chefs, including last year’s Maine Lobster Chef of the Year, Matt Ginn from EVO, as well as chef Nick Krunkkala of Liquid Riot Bottling Co., and chef Isaac Aldrich from the Pilot House at Sebasco Harbor Resort.
Saturday’s Harvest on the Harbor signature event is Market on the Harbor. “It’s the biggest food sampling opportunity there is,” says Manning. “We’re really excited to be partnering with Whole Foods, who will be showcasing their local suppliers in a pop-up experience.” Market on the Harbor will have offerings from 120 brewers, distillers, makers, and purveyors from around the state.
Chef Harding Lee Smith of the Rooms restaurants will bring together Maine’s master chefs for Sunday’s grand finale event, the Chef Showcase. “We’re also really excited to have the opportunity to feature a handful of mixologists at this event, because the beverage scene is equal to the food scene—or at least growing to be equal,” says Manning, who notes that Vena’s Fizz House will also be participating.
If one’s taste buds begin to tire during the weekend’s festivities, Manning says that people can also savor the shopping in Portland. Through a partnership with the organization Portland Downtown, “ticket holders will have access to all sorts of shopping opportunities
in town,” says Manning. “That will include everything from specials at restaurants to discounts in shops.”
Manning and Garofalo are grateful to have so many chefs and partners helping to make it possible for Harvest on the Harbor to benefit Maine’s childhood hunger relief organization, Full Plates, Full Potential. “We believe strongly as two working mothers that eradicating childhood hunger specifically in Maine—but also across the United States—is probably one of the most important things that we need to do,” says Garofalo. “We are thrilled to be working with Full Plates. They work hand-in- hand with the folks who are on the front lines to make sure that the monies are distributed in a way that really makes a difference.”
Manning hopes that her long-term partnership with Garofalo will contribute to the ongoing success of Harvest on the Harbor. “We went into this with the intention of really seeing through 2016 before we decided what it looks like afterwards,” says Manning. “We’re learning something new every single day. This is no small undertaking and it really does require a ton of people banding together to make the vision happen.”
Manning and Garofalo are excited to be bringing taste connoisseurs from Maine (and away) together for this year’s celebration. “Portland is very much on the national food radar,” says Manning. “For us, it’s about highlighting the key things that make our food economy what it is, and having a really good time doing it.”