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The first-ever El Dorado Food Festival has been deemed a success and event coordinators reported that they have already fielded requests from several local restaurants to host the festival again next year.

On Nov. 12, Don Hale, of the Diamond Agency, the ad agency of the record for the El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission, thanked commissioners for their support of the food festival, which was held Sept. 1 - Oct. 31.

The festival was coordinated by the El Dorado Insider quarterly magazine in a partnership with the A&P commission and other sponsors, including Murphy USA, Hepco Distributing and Noalmark Broadcasting.

Hale approached A&P commissioners in June with a funding request of $5,987 to help launch the festival, a nine-week promotion to support local restaurants by boosting sales and raising awareness about the food industry in El Dorado — which along with other industries, has been affected this year by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The El Dorado Food Festival was unique in that it did not involve an organized gathering on a single site.

Rather, coordinators put together a series of activities, including dedicating the fall 2020 issue of the El Dorado Insider to local eateries and the variety of food that is available in El Dorado; coupon booklets that offered $380,000 worth of discounts from local restaurants; radio and digital billboard advertising; a $500 grand prize to a diner who used at least one of the coupons, completed the entry form on the back of the coupons and left them inside collection boxes that were set up at participating restaurants; and Murphy USA gas cards, valued at $50, were given away each week to a winner who dined at a local restaurant and posted to Instagram and Facebook a photo of the food and/or themselves and identified the restaurant where they dined or purchased take-out meals.

Hale said more than 1,500 entries were submitted for the $500 grand prize, which was awarded to El Dorado resident Larry Andrews, who registered at Main Street Pizza.

Eight MUSA gas cards were also given away during the two-month festival.

“I want to thank you on behalf of all the restaurants, eateries and bakeries in El Dorado. Several of them told me that it really helped their business. They understood how responsive you were to us changing courses with our fall marketing and focusing on food …,” Hale told A&P commissioners.

“I think we made a difference. I think we moved a needle. We had restaurants that had never participated in a promotion before that bought ads and radio spots and utilized billboards,” he said

With several requests to host the El Dorado Food Festival in 2021, Hale noted that the public health crisis presented presented a special set of circumstances.

He explained that after hearing from restaurant owners earlier this year, coordinators came up with the idea of the food festival to help local eateries recoup revenue that had been lost because of COVID-19.

“But it is something that we’ll take a hard look at. Maybe next fall, we’ll do something in a shorter duration,” Hale said.

Commissioner Kelli Harrison suggested that festival coordinators consider planning such an event for the summer.

“I know us, personally, summertime seems to be slow for most of us,” said Harrison, owner of The Olde Towne Store in downtown El Dorado.

Hale said coordinators are also discussing other ideas for the food festival in 2021, including implementing a digital coupon system rather than printing hard copies.

Though the El Dorado Food Festival ended Oct. 31, many of the coupons for local restaurants are valid until Dec. 31 and commissioners encouraged residents to continue supporting local restaurants by taking advantage of the discounts before the coupons expire.

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