Morgan Allen sighed. The past month has been a whirlwind of change and retooling and the unknown, but the executive director of euphoria is maintaining a positive front.

Limited tickets for the 15th year of the top-rated local food, wine and music festival went on sale Sunday, and the response was overwhelming.

“We actually had the best day of ticket sales we’ve ever had,” said Allen, fighting tears. “I think people want something to look forward to, and I think it speaks volumes about our festival.”

This much is clear for now: People want to attend euphoria. But what the festival, scheduled Sept. 17-20, will look like remains to be seen.

Last year, about 6,300 people attended, and Allen had hoped the 15th year would see even more — more guests, more talent. But she is preparing for what will no doubt be a smaller festival. Chefs may not be able to attend, and guests may not want to be in large crowds. There may also be restrictions on gatherings.

A smaller festival means economic impact, which in 2018 was $3.8 million, will also be reduced at a time when need is even greater, Allen said.

Couple that with the economics of putting on a festival. Euphoria receives accommodations tax dollars, which help market the festival and Greenville. Those funds are reduced, Allen said, since tourism has come to a halt. Many of the festival’s sponsors have had to back out due to financial strain, meaning the grants euphoria gives to local non-profits will likely be impacted as well.

“As much as we’ve done research around other festivals, we are unique in that we are a non-profit,” Allen said. “If we don’t have a festival that means we can’t support the people that we have supported for 14 years — non-profits, restaurants, chefs and musicians. And we feel strongly we need to figure out how to still give back to this community. It’s probably more imperative even than before.”

Allen and her staff are planning for the possibility of being smaller, which would mean cutting in half signature euphoria events like the Feast by the Field and the Fired Up Sunday Brunch, and likely reducing the number of chefs and musicians who participate.

There is also the question of whether chefs and musicians will be able to or even want to participate. Chefs have been hit hard as restaurants were some of the earliest businesses ordered closed at the start of the pandemic.

Almost 80% of independent restaurant owners are unsure that government stimulus assistance provided in the CARES Act can stop the 500,000 independent restaurants in the U.S. from shutting down permanently, according to a survey released by the James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

“I do think a lot of restaurants are going to be severely impacted in the long term and possibly not survive this,” Allen said.

Of the nearly 80 chefs already confirmed for euphoria, Allen hasn’t yet had any pull out completely, but many are hinging their participation on what happens in the next few weeks.

This includes several the Michelin starred chefs scheduled to attend this year. The lineup included seven — one of which is a “big name” chef with mass appeal, Allen said — the most euphoria has ever had.

Though, Allen noted that the three Michelin chefs — Teague Moriarty of Sons and Daughters in San Francisco, Emma Bengtsson of Aquavit in New York City and Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread in Healdsburg, California — have said they still plan to attend, meaning the Saturday night “Seeing Stars” dinner is still a go.

So far, nearly all the local chefs who were signed up to be a part of euphoria have said they will still participate as well.

 Allen plans to open ticket sales for a second round of events in late may or early June. These will likely still just be the smaller, 30-50-person experiences like classrooms, chef dinners and lunches.

“You just adjust and that’s all you can do,” Allen said.

For now, the festival will go on.

Tickets to the 15th annual euphoria are available at euphoriagreenville.com.

The Greenville News