As 4-year-old Ella giggled and jumped to the “Cupid Shuffle,“ which blasted throughout Santa Fe College’s main parking lot Thursday night, 39-year-old Jerry Farris couldn’t help but shake his hips to the beat, too.

About 4,000 attended the third annual Gainesville Food Fest on Thursday night and sampled foods from about 40 restaurants, who set up shop along the perimeter of the Santa Fe parking lot to offer residents food and deals on their products.

The juicy, enticing smell of Relish burgers filled the air. World of Beer gave out ice-cold brews to residents.Mac Events, an event planning company, took donations for post-hurricane Puerto Rico relief efforts.

DJ group Genius Entertainment played everything from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as families shared meals and laughter.

Each guest paid $10 to enter. Guests who wanted VIP, or unlimited access to food, beer and the VIP tent, paid $25, event co-sponsor Jorge Villalobos said.

Each participating business could set up a tent free of charge but had to first become a member of Gift Certificates and More, an app that features discounts on local restaurants designed by lead Food Fest organizer Ed Lavagnino, who declined to comment.

“This is about supporting local restaurants,” Villalobos said. “We have plenty of chains here but also good local business. People here are going to get food they might not ever see otherwise.”

Working night shifts as a UPS driver, Farris said he normally can’t attend evening community events like Food Fest.

But after taking a vacation week, seeing the event on Facebook and bringing Ella; Ella’s mom and his girlfriend, 38-year-old Sarah Barnes; and his mom, Bobby, he said he wouldn’t have traded Thursday night for the world.

“It’s a good time for the little one,” he said. “We’ve hit almost every single tent. It’s been a blast.”

As husband and wife Mitchell and Dolly Wright walked around the festival grounds, they shared a beer and warm, steamy pork from Adam’s Rib Co. Gatherings like the Food Festival help bring residents closer to their communities, Mitchell said.

“For one, it’s important for small businesses. People get a sense of what’s going on around them,” the 55-year-old said. “Plus, I just like food.”

Staff Writer

David Hoffman covers crime and metro for The Alligator. A rising UF history and economics senior, the 21-year-old lives and breathes for classy Parks and Recreation references and watching live performances of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on YouTube.