Friday, March 1, 2024

Who’s responsible for the Azalea Festival food truck debacle? Mayor says it’s not the city

​​WILMINGTON — In the final moments of Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Bill Saffo spoke out about the public’s reaction to a food truck mixup that garnered attention during the 2022 Azalea Festival. The incident called into question the city’s commitments to supporting local businesses — while, technically, a third party contracted by the festival was responsible for organizing the vendors.

The mayor asked the city manager and attorney to incorporate a disclaimer in all future contracts to make it clear: When other entities are using city spaces, the city is not involved in the planning.

RELATED: ​​​​Local food trucks turned away from Azalea Fest concerts causes stir

Built with the backing of a voter-approved and taxpayer-funded parks bond, downtown Wilmington’s Riverfront Park is owned by the city. But Live Nation manages it as Live Oak Bank Pavilion when performers take over the stage and up to 7,000 concertgoers fill the venue.

When Azalea Festival got free rein of the facility a few weeks ago for its own concerts, it used the same third-party contractor for food and beverages as Live Nation — DLS Events LLC, according to city emails. The concessions company was in charge of managing the food trucks for the shows Wednesday through Saturday.

With all the parties involved, it wasn’t immediately clear who, if anyone, was at fault for Harley Bruce’s negative experience. The owner of local food truck Poor Piggy’s shared on social media he was supposed to work the Thursday night show but, instead, was turned away.

The post went viral locally, shared 300 times in 48 hours.

“A lot of folks were pointing the finger at us,” Mayor Saffo said at the council meeting.

He added: “From what I understand, that is a third party, between the Azalea Festival and whoever they are hiring.”

The director of the Azalea Festival could not be reached Thursday but wrote in an email the day after Port City Daily’s first article on the issue: “The Azalea Festival has been made aware of the situation below. All food & beverage at Live Oak Bank Pavilion are run by Live Nation and DLS Events. They know of the situation and are looking into the issue.”

DLS Events has not responded to requests for comments.

In the Facebook post, Bruce wrote that being turned away almost cost him thousands in food and worker wages, and he said in an interview he could see Live Nation food trucks parked within the venue. The city received an outpouring of calls and had to diffuse upset residents due to the social media recount, Saffo described.

“To get blamed for that kind of stuff is just not right,” Saffo spieled. “And we hear it over and over again, not by the city, but by third-party operators that work in the city facility that maybe have a bad situation or have a bad contractual obligation with some of their folks that they hire.”

Bruce said in an interview early last week he did not blame the city.

While a city spokesperson previously explained Poor Piggy’s wasn’t scheduled to show up at the venue the Thursday he was turned away, Bruce said it was agreed upon essentially in a handshake deal over calls and text. Another food truck owner, Paul Parker of Wheelz Pizza, recounted he was almost turned away, too, because of spacing limitations, but he pleaded and was eventually allowed to squeeze into a spot.

The city later accused Poor Piggy’s of violating the ordinance by attempting to serve from the public right-of-way, but Bruce denied doing so and said he was only parked there for a short time to figure out the situation.

Contributing to the swirling controversy, and in a sting of irony, days after the incident, New Hanover County Environmental Health visited Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and discovered another food truck operating in the county without necessary permits. The unit was owned by DLS Events.

Later, the county department realized a second truck at Live Oak Bank Pavilion was lacking mobile food permits to serve in the county during the Bon Iver show, WHQR reported. According to Live Nation, DLS Events initiated the process for obtaining permits and believed it was in compliance during the Azalea Festival, which happened prior to the Iver performance.

Saffo said next time reporters reach out about a similar issue, the city would send a copy of the contract with the disclaimer and would even share it on social media.

“Of course, the narrative had already been written,” Saffo said. “Because on social media whatever gets out there first — no matter if it’s a lie or if it’s misinformation — that’s what people gravitate to.”

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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