Leadership Lafayette plans community event to support Oxford food, beverage entrepreneurs

Published 11:15 am Friday, June 16, 2023

Leadership Lafayette’s class of 2023 has embarked on a project to impact local food and beverage entrepreneurs and stimulate the local economy.

Through a one-night culinary event – dubbed The Snack Down – customers will sample products from cottage foods producers, home chefs, bakers, restaurant startups, mixologists, caterers, food trucks and more.

The event is currently seeking applications from vendors interested in participating, as well from as sponsors to support the event and its mission. Applications for vendors are due by midnight July 10. Twenty vendors will be selected and contacted about two weeks after application. Sponsorship pledges are due by July 7.

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Located at The Powerhouse (operated by Yoknapatawpha Arts Council), The Snack Down will occur at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17. The event will feature bite-sized offerings from Oxford and Lafayette county food makers, restaurateurs, food trucks, mixologists and more. With sponsorships from Cathead Distillery and the mixology talents of Joe Stinchcomb of Bar Muse, a cocktail will be included in the ticket price for all guests. 

“It’s really important to have a commissary kitchen for the community to elevate businesses from being a hobby to being an actual business,” said Joe Stinchcomb, owner of Bar Muse, which is located on the Historic Oxford Square. “This will help smaller operations grow, and, in turn, help the community have more small businesses, which is what you need in a thriving small town like Oxford.”

Leadership Lafayette, which began in 1989, is a program of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce.  The eight-month program is a series of training sessions and activities designed for emerging community leaders intended to assure the continuity of leadership in Lafayette-Oxford-University community and assist already established community leaders, who are seeking more effective ways to contribute to the community.  In addition to the monthly sessions, class members also participate in a community based project.

The Leadership Lafayette team was inspired to create a food and wine festival-style event with panels and discussions, but decided to focus on just the producers and their products with a small, one-night-only event. The team is one of four in this year’s Leadership Lafayette class, and comprises Mike Burks (Oxford Police Department), Mason Chapin (Thompson CAT), Cassie DiMauro (formerly with Roberts Wilson, P.A.), Elizabeth Tettleton Mason (University of Mississippi), Amelia Miller Ott (Oxford Newsmedia) and Eathen Rainey (BankPlus).

“Writers and restaurateurs like John Currence, Vishwesh Bhatt, Joel Miller and John T. Edge solidified Oxford’s place in the country for fine dining and ‘southern food,’ but that doesn’t tell the whole story of our community,” said Tettleton Mason. “The new businesses aren’t being seen on a national or statewide scale, and often are struggling to survive past their first year of business. The pandemic was a huge blow to their growth, as well.”

The LOU Community has entrepreneurs with a desire to launch businesses in Oxford or to scale their operations to the next level, but they need resources. Often coming from historically underrepresented, minoritized groups, many are first-generation business owners. Because of this, processes like creating a business plan, forming an LLC, applying for a small business development loan, and finding affordable production space that meets MSDH regulations become huge barriers and reduce the potential for success.

The creative economy is a key driver of jobs, small business growth and tourism in Lafayette County,” said Wayne Andrew, the executive director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (YAC), which is co-hosting the event. “Events such as this demonstrate the thriving small business community and the need for resources to support small businesses.” 

Recognizing that space is limited in Oxford for these businesses to begin, YAC has established many networking events and programs to aid entrepreneurs in the area. As a result, YAC is ahead of the game: It is in the process of forming a creative work-share space adjacent to the Powerhouse called the new Humanities Hub (OxfordArts.com/hub), or “The Hub,” for short.

After receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, YAC is halfway there, yet to make the Hub a reality, raising $3 million more is necessary.

“Our planned Humanities Hub will be a space where business and art intersect,” Andrews added. “By providing space to creative business owners, such as food entrepreneurs, we create new businesses and have diverse cultural representation that is accessible to the community.”

The Snack Down event was fashioned with a few goals in mind: showcase small F&B business talent in Oxford, generate funds for The Hub’s creation and its needed equipment, connect F&B small business with resources and networks, and grow community through food, fun and fundraising in Oxford. 

“I can see this growing into an event that brings people to Oxford from across the country,”  Tettleton Mason said. “Our state doesn’t have a mainstay ‘food and wine festival’ – a few have popped up for a year or two, but not been solidified as a cornerstone of our state. I’d love for Oxford to be the one to create the next ‘Atlanta’ or ‘Charleston’ Food & Wine Festival that brings people from all over the country to our state each year.”

There is a limit of 200 tickets, available to those 18 years or older. Tickets went on sale Thursday at $25 per ticket, and $20 for guests who have active membership with YAC or the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce. Tickets can be purchased until 5 p.m. Aug. 17.

If tickets are remaining, they may be available at the door. A cash bar will be available, with proceeds going to the fundraising efforts. 

To participate as a vendor or to purchase tickets, visit OxfordArts.com/SnackDown. Anyone with interest is encouraged to apply. 

To become a sponsor, email visit OxfordArts.con/SnackDown to sponsor. Alternatively, contact a Leadership Lafayette team member through SnackDownOxford@gmail.com to discuss ways to sponsor gift-in-kind or other supporting arrangements. An invoice for tax purposes will be provided to sponsors from the Chamber of Commerce.