Written by Story Impact Media, LLC
February 13, 2017
Ted and Riezl baker were driving to Naples, Florida, for the 2009 Winter Wine Festival at The Ritz-Carlton there. They passed time chatting about how to raise money for Redeemer Episcopal Academy, where their two children had previously attended. The school needed funds to build “real” classrooms and replace portables. Ted and Riezl tossed ideas back and forth and out the window.
The answer was right in front of them. “During the event in Naples we saw $5 million raised in three hours ... underneath a tent,” says Riezl. “We thought, ‘This is what we need to do, a destination event.’”
Despite being property owners at Reynolds, and even with Ted’s management experience at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, they couldn’t just ask the Ritz to host their … idea. The only venue they could find was Pike Nurseries. So the first Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival was held at the garden center, with flower pots pushed to the side and skeptical restaurant operators wondering how many people would attend a destination event on the outskirts of Greensboro, Georgia.
“We had no clue what to expect,” says Riezl. The nursery could hold 250 people. And 250 people showed up for the event. “We could have sold twice as many tickets.”
It’s eight years later. The Bakers’ idea is now the biggest annual event at The Ritz-Carlton Lake Oconee. Get that? The biggest. Guests from as far as California plan their vacations around the festival. Vintner dinners and launch parties have been added to the weekend. Total attendance in 2016 topped 1,000.
“The Food and Wine Committee and The Ritz-Carlton really took the event to the next level,” says Riezl. “To look back and see where it all started just a few years ago, and to see where it is now, it really is wild.”
Learn more about the Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival.