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Disastrous LA Food Event Is Being Called the Fyre Festival of Barbecue

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The Los Angeles Beer and World Barbecue event in Chinatown did not go smoothly this past weekend

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The original marketing image for the festival
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Lots of disgruntled ticketholders have taken to the internet to blast last weekend’s LA Beer and World Barbecue Festival, held Saturday at Mandarin Plaza in Chinatown. By many accounts the first-time event was an unmitigated disaster, with a severely delayed start, hours-long lines, not enough staff, and heavy overcrowding. Now Fever, the events-based app company behind it all, is in full damage control mode.

Plenty of online commenters are calling the botched beer and barbecue afternoon the Fyre Festival of food events in Los Angeles, a nod to the high-profile food and music disaster in 2017 that spawned two different documentaries because it was so mismanaged. As one disgruntled online commenter put it: “I’d like to thank Ja Rule and Billy McFarland for putting this event together...”

At least with LA Beer and World Barbecue, it doesn’t seem so far that Fever actually planned to defraud anyone; they simply got overmatched. According to company reps, they’re in the process of offering refunds as of today.

The plan, at least up top, was to give attendees who paid $32 per person one drink ticket and three food tickets to try out a variety of worldwide “barbecue” styles. Among the food vendors was Ray’s BBQ, the Texas-style barbecue in Huntington Park; Mid-East Tacos from Smorgasburg; Hop Woo in Chinatown; and Lately Kitchen, which already has a standalone restaurant at Mandarin Plaza. VIP ticketholders were able to pay more for multiple drink tickets and access to food from all eight vendors.

According to various posts on the event’s Facebook page (including plenty of video and photo evidence) and on Yelp, three-deep lines drew down the block for hours before people were even let inside. Eater has confirmed with multiple people attached to the event in various ways that the health department kept the festival from beginning for over an hour because of an issue with vendor water temperatures. That led to an initial backlog of hopeful attendees, with everyone eventually pushing inside all at once to try to score some food and drink.

Angry Yelp commenters

Some reports say that there were only two or three small bars to handle the capacity crowds, and that lines for just one vendor took over an hour, with the whole event only spanning four hours total. As for the vendors themselves, two different unnamed sources tell Eater that they tried to push out as much food as possible to the seemingly endless hordes, but the compact space and density of eager eaters made it a struggle for everyone. One person said the crowd likely swelled to over 3,500 people (including some people who may have shown up without a ticket), and reports say the fire marshal may have tried to shut things down at one point.

Reached for comment, reps for Fever shared their disappointment in how the event went down, noting the delayed opening created a domino effect that brought the festival to its knees early on. The whole thing was far from a scam, though; Fever says they’re working on reaching out to and refunding customers this week. As for any future food and drink events around LA from Fever, that remains to be seen. Here is their official statement:

We sincerely apologize to each guest who was disappointed in our event and are working around the clock to make sure our customers’ concerns are addressed. Our mission at Fever is to inspire people through experiences the world over and we are committed to becoming a positive mainstay in the community. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the start time to our event was delayed considerably which created the long lines for entry, food and drink. We regret that some users had a poor experience but rest assured we will work tirelessly to set things right.