At Black Iris Music near Quirk Gallery, lights are strung, long tables are set, musicians play and a meal prepared by a local chef is about to be served.
Although it looks a lot like a wine dinner, Feast RVA is an event that pairs folks who have great ideas with people who can help fund them. Participants pitch an idea, and diners vote on the one that impresses them the most. Grants range from $500 to $1,000.
A few years ago, Johnny Hugel was eating at Ipanema Cafe when he overheard Josh Epperson talking about an app he wanted to create. Although Hugel now works at Mobelux, where he develops the kinds of projects he heard Epperson discussing, at the time it was just a passionate interest of his.
The two had met briefly before, and Hugel was curious about the idea, so he took a chance and asked Epperson what he was working on. The discussion turned into an entirely different project.
“What became the unofficial thesis of Feast RVA,” Hugel says, “was the fact that people with similar interests and drives and desire to make things happen could live in a city as small as Richmond — as community-focused as Richmond — and still not have any idea that both share a common goal.”
Hugel and Epperson wanted to get those people together. Inspired by FEAST Brooklyn, which stands for Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics, they decided to launch a similar recurring dinner event. “The idea easily translated itself to Richmond,” Hugel says, “but there were other things we wanted to adapt.”
While the Brooklyn event focuses on the arts, Hugel and Epperson wanted to widen that to include other kinds of project participants. Past winners include McDonough Community Garden and moon-pie-baking business Dollop. So far, they’ve held 11 dinners, which are $25 a ticket. They’ve also added a series of free happy-hour events to lower the barrier to entry and increase the diversity of participants.
“We’re facilitating serendipitous interactions,” Epperson says. “We see a community of creative people who deserve to be recognized.”