Taste of Minnesota ends in bankruptcy

Is financier Andy Faris to blame?

About a month before the event, the cracks started to show. Bills were coming due—about $400,000—and Faris didn't have the money.

The Campbells used their connections to help him get a short-term bridge loan. The money would be due at the end of the event.

The weather over the Fourth of July weekend was oppressively hot—so steamy that concert-goers risked heatstroke. Then came the rain. Over the four-day event, attendance was way below expectations: 60,000 when organizers had hoped for 100,000.

Taste of Minnesota forsook its roots and tried to become a concert festival, with disastrous results
Bre McGee
Taste of Minnesota forsook its roots and tried to become a concert festival, with disastrous results

On the last day of the festival, Faris approached Rick Olson, who sold the tickets for the event.

"Andy came to me and said, 'Can you do me a personal favor and delay your billing?'" Olson recalls.

Faris wrote a check to the bank to pay the $400,000 bridge loan, and he settled up with the food vendors. But then the money ran out, leaving a lot of people unpaid.

"Kevin Campbell and I were hired guys," says Brian "BT" Turner, DJ for Cities 97. "We didn't go into it with the notion that if the event's a success and we make money we get paid. No. We were all in there as independent contractors—working."

Among the money still owed: $110,000 to the city of St. Paul, mostly for police services; $32,520 to McFarland Cahill Communications for public relations; $23,026 to the Campbells for event management; $18,000 to Brian Turner for his promotional work and services; $25,629 to Kam Talebi of CRAVE for food and services; $63,108 to Cummins NJPower; $15,569 to Craig Gass for concessions.

"I own a business," says Teresa McFarland, partner at McFarland Cahill Communications, who did PR for the event. "And I would never ask people to put effort forth if I had no intention of paying them—if I wasn't covered for the worst-case scenario, whether that's tapping into your own, or whatever. As a business owner with a certain ethic, you take care of people."

On October 6, the city of St. Paul booted Taste of Minnesota from Harriet Island, ending the long-standing tradition. The city issued an RFP for alternative Fourth of July events.

On October 29, Faris sent creditors a letter explaining that he "had exhausted all known avenues for a sale of Taste" and still didn't have the money to pay what he owed.

By then, the motivation for Faris's big gamble seemed clear to the Campbells.

"I think there was definitely some ego involved in what he was looking to do," Kevin Campbell says. "I don't think we understood it at the time, but they were looking to double-down on their losses for 2009."

Campbell corralled the other creditors and filed a petition to put the Taste owners into involuntary bankruptcy. More creditors are expected to come forward, including the city of St. Paul. Creditors have until December 27 to join the claim.

If the bankruptcy goes as expected, the remaining assets of Taste of Minnesota will be handed over to a trustee.

In the meantime, Faris says he is not the only one at fault—that many people made decisions that led the festival to flop financially.

"I've been pretty forward about what's going on with the company," Faris says. "It's been devastating for everybody." 

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