Lorri Lofton is just your average person who loves trying new foods. She often tests out new restaurants, posts pictures of her meal on her Instagram and encourages her followers to try what she has had.
As she began to post more food and get more engagement, she would get invited to restaurants to try news dishes. Her goal, she said, is to get others to try new things and share some of Charlotte’s “hidden gems.”
“People usually gravitate towards what they are familiar with,” she said. “ I just want people to find their new favorite (restaurant).”
On Saturday, Lofton and her team at Gracefully 54:17, a Charlotte-based event and consulting agency she founded in 2018, will host Charlotte Brunch Festival, an event to bring exposure to local chefs and restaurants.
Located at Norfolk Hall, the festival will feature 10 vendors, each offering sample-sized brunch menu items for as little as $3 to $5.
The vendor list includes Best of Both Souls, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, Capital Vacations, Chef Sly, Hotbox, Jess Let it Simmer, Made from Scratch, Ruby Sunshine, Upper Cervical Spine and The Waterman.
Lofton hosted her first Charlotte Brunch Festival in the spring of 2018 after seeing the growing popularity of food festivals across the country.
“I saw this done in other major cities such as Orlando and Atlanta and wanted to bring this concept to Charlotte,” she said. “A lot of festivals are focused on beers…ciders or seltzers, (but) this is culinarily focused on brunch.”
Lofton’s first brunch festival was held at The Fillmore Charlotte and featured 23 local restaurants. At least 800 people attended.
The following year, in 2019, she paused the event to revamp, anticipating a return in 2020, but then Covid-19 struck.
Lofton said the pandemic has continued to cause issues; she reached out to 80 restaurants this year, but only 10 agreed to participate. Many of those that declined cited staffing shortages.
Undeterred, she reached out to local chefs to round out her vendor list.
Because of the pandemic’s resurgence, this year’s festival will be capped at 500 people, 300 fewer than Lofton’s first event.
“With all that’s happening…we’re just paying attention and being aware and making the necessary changes,” she said.
Dallas Green, owner of Made From Scratch Comfort Food Truck, said he’ll be there, adding a “luxury flair” to normal brunch options.
“This weekend, I plan to do lobster mac n’ cheese and a crispy lobster tail and grits,” he said. “For the brunch aspect, I have elevated the experience.”
Private chef Sylester (Chef Sly) Jefferson Jr. will be there too, offering “Your Favorite French Toast Bread Pudding” along with “crab, gravy, and biscuits.”
“Whether it be the best bit of food you’ve ever had, being reminded of a good memory, creating a new memory, or a feel-good conversation, the experience is what sets me apart,” he said.
Best of Both Souls restaurant owner Chenelle Bragg said menu items such as her vegan shrimp and grits will bring her restaurant exposure and make customers more knowledgeable of vegan soul food.
“Vegans don’t just eat lettuce and carrots,” she laughed. “The food is flavorful, just for people to know that there are more options than a traditional meat diet.”
Lofton said exposure is critical for restaurants during the pandemic, which has forced many to shut down.
“I’ve made it a choice to venture out to new restaurants and show my support,” she said.
Charlotte Brunch Festival will be held from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors must purchase tickets from Eventbrite.
In keeping with pandemic protocols, visitors are asked to practice social distancing and wear face coverings, as required under Charlotte’s new masking mandate.