GCM

The sixth biannual Gift Certificates and More (GCM) Food Festival will take place on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Celebration Pointe. 

Edward Lavagnino, 45, founded the company in 2011 and decided to create the food festival to be the living embodiment of the couponing app. The app allows users to save money on purchases from over 100 businesses in the Gainesville area. 

Admission to the festival will be free. Guests who have the GCM app get one free food and drink ticket, while additional tickets can be purchased for $2. The tickets are redeemable at any of the participating booths. 

Restaurants will have portion sizes that will vary slightly in price. Brad Carman, one of the event coordinators, said some restaurants will have $2 portion sizes, whereas others may offer a hamburger for $4. He said vendors are asked to cap the limit on prices at $6 to encourage guests to try a variety of different foods offered throughout the festival. 

For the first time, there is an indoor and outdoor VIP section which guests can purchase for $50 and $30, respectively. 

Piesanos will be catering the outdoor VIP area, and 4 Rivers Smokehouse will be providing the desserts. Guests who purchase an outdoor VIP ticket will receive $20 worth of tickets that they can spend on beer, wine or food outside of the VIP tent.

The outdoor VIP area will be held in a 20 feet by 40 feet tent set up at the end of the line of vendors. Carman said the tent will contain a private line for beer and wine as well as TVs to entertain guests and offer a break from the rest of the crowd.

The Indoor VIP section will be catered by MidiCi the Neapolitan Pizza Co. and will have a bar provided by MidiCi as well. Indoor VIP guests will also receive $20 worth of tickets to spend at their leisure. 

The food presented at both the indoor and outdoor VIP areas will be free for guests to eat; however, they will still need to present their tickets to the restaurants outside of the VIP area. 

Carman said that there was around 6,700 people at the last festival. However, he expects there to be around 8,000 to 10,000 guests in attendance this Thursday. 

Whiskey Jones, a five member rock band, will be performing on the main stage at the festival, and the DJ, Elio Piedra, will be on the main grass, according to Carman. This year, there will be restaurants and a full bar by the band to encourage people to get more involved in the entertainment. 

Lavagnino has been coordinating the GCM Food Festival for the past four years and has enjoyed seeing the growth. At his first festival they had 25 vendors in total, now there are 76. 

“Anyone can put a food festival together. We want to put a really good festival together, one that makes people think ‘Wow! I can’t wait to come back,’” Lavagnino said. 

Though, the event has been growing and improving, according to Lavagnino, he says that he always reminds his team to make this event better than the last, a task that he believes gets harder with every festival. 

“At some point, you’re not going to be able to get more,” said Lavagnino. There’s limitations of space and how many restaurants can participate, but we always say ‘How can we make it better?’ Celebration Pointe has been a huge part of that.” 

One of the upgrades for this festival is the bathrooms. Instead of a Porta Potty, Lavagnino decided to rent portable bathrooms with running water and electricity. He also hired an interior decorator to help theme the festival for the fall season. 

“I want people to leave my food festival thinking they left a really nice wedding, not a food festival,” Lavagnino said. 

Carman believes that the event’s inexpensive price also contributes to the growth and enjoyment of the event. 

“To be able to bring a free event to the community that everyone can come and enjoy is great,” Carman said. The food is not free, but we try to keep it as inexpensive as possible for families to come and enjoy themselves.”