Following the success of the third annual Bizerkeley Food Festival in September, founder Erica Hazell is launching a new bi-monthly vegan event in Berkeley.
The annual vegan festival originally launched in-person celebrations in 2021 and has grown into a popular event with 75 vendors and 3,000 guests. The new Bizerkely Festival will be a scaled-down version of the annual affair and is the product of a partnership with Fourth Street Makers Market and Wiggins Marketplace. The event will be held every second Saturday and third Sunday at 1919 Fourth St. in Berkeley, with the first in the series on November 11. Depending on the weather, the event may be held indoors.
“We have so many vegan companies based here that no one knows about,” Hazell said. Vegan food companies Impossible, Miyoko’s Creamery and Peamilk are all based in Berkeley.
There are several vegan festivals in the Bay Area, but Berkeley has never had one of its own until Beezerkley. There are at least three vegan festivals a week in Southern California, Hazel said, and she was surprised that Berkeley, a city known for being health-conscious, didn’t have one.
“It’s a huge red flag on our end because we don’t have to travel by plane or drive 400 miles to have an event that Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles have every week [basis],” she said.
Hazel believes a month-long vegan festival in Berkeley would help cultivate a foodie culture and support small merchants, two things that have become especially important as the Bay Area has seen a steady loss of culinary darlings lately.
“We have so many small business owners coming up on the culinary scene,” Hazell said. “But so many people are at risk of going out of business because vegans feel that no one here is cultivating the vegan scene like they are in other cities.”
The month-long festival is also a way to increase the accessibility of vegan food to people who may not be aware of the range of options. Hazel grew up in a meat-eating home and began her journey to becoming a vegan in 2015. When her grandmother died of cancer, Hazel realized she wanted to change her food choices.
Hazel says her mission is not to turn the world vegan, but to highlight the need for healthier options, and the new food festival will have no symposiums, panels or aggressive sales tactics. “We just let this food speak for itself.”
After traveling around the country researching and talking to different organizations, Hazel learned how to organize an event that is inclusive and appealing to everyone, not just vegans. For the Bizerkeley Food Festival, she took what she liked from other events. One thing he learned is that the most successful festivals don’t use the word “vegan” in the event title.
“I felt that one of the easiest ways to get people to include more plants in their diet was to show people how delicious they are without the meat,” Hazell said.
Although the annual festival is a non-profit event and has supported animal-based nonprofits in the Bay Area, including Berkeley Animal Care Services and the Berkeley Animal Shelter, the new event does not currently have a charity component.
“I want my suppliers to continue to be full-time vegan businesses that they can be really proud of,” said Hazel.
The event will be held twice a month at Fourth Street Maker’s Row beginning November 11, the second Saturday and third Sunday of each month. For more information about the Bizerkeley Food Festival, visit the Instagram page or webpage.