A group of two dozen or so Fort Worth food and beverage employees and enthusiasts gathered one afternoon in 2012 to talk about how to launch a party to celebrate the joys of good things to eat and drink in Cowtown. These folks were gathered around a big table by Russell Kirkpatrick and Mike Micallef, longtime colleagues at Fort Worth’s famous Reata restaurant.
The two became founders of the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, agreeing that it was time to celebrate the local culinary scene. As it turned out, the duo found lots of immediate, enthusiastic support. Things got cooking, so to speak, in 2013 with a series of dinners called 20 at the Tower. Russell and Mike located a then-empty downtown restaurant space in the former Bank One Tower and invited a star-studded list of chefs from Fort Worth and Dallas to cook a special menu each week over the summer. Guests signed up, not knowing who would be at the stoves on a given night; the BYOB event series was a smash-hit, raising the seed money needed to host the inaugural festival the following spring.
In 2014, the first FWFWF rolled out downtown at The Worthington Hotel and in Sundance Square. After that, the four-day party moved around town, staged at sites like the Pier 1 headquarters facing the Trinity River, and then Billy Bob’s, Bass Hall, The Fort Worth Club, Panther Island, and Whiskey Ranch. By 2018, FWFWF found a long-term home in Fort Worth’s Clearfork, with signature events showcasing tacos, burgers, upscale dining, brunch favorites, live-fire cooking and all manner of beer, wine, and spirits, all happening under the live oaks on Fort Worth’s legendary Edwards Ranch property.
FWFWF continues to evolve in celebrations, adding elite seated brunch and dinner parties featuring celebrity chefs from near and far. To date, partners for such events have included Garden & Gun and Texas Monthly magazines. All events routinely sell out far in advance, whether fajitas or foie gras is on the menu. Audiences numbering as many as 1,300 at a single event keeps the Fort Worth food-and-beverage love growing in leaps and bounds.
But it’s more than just a party! The FWFWF also works hard to benefit industry personnel with education and financial support. As a non-profit entity, the Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation, which benefits from the festival’s fundraising, provides scholarships for students from North Texas high schools seeking higher education in the culinary arts and grants for area high school culinary programs in need of equipment. The Foundation also adds to special endowments to culinary, nutrition, and food science and management programs at Tarrant County College, Texas Christian University and the Culinary School of Fort Worth. What’s more, the Foundation launched an employee relief program at the pandemic lockdown outset, providing money to restaurant and food industry workers who needed financial assistance. That program continues for employees with health issues and medical needs. As we continue well into our second decade, we are a stronger community, thanks to everyone who makes the FWFWF a delicious success.