While the Charleston Wine + Food Festival seriously considered executive director candidates without extensive culinary backgrounds, its board ultimately awarded the event’s top job to a food festival veteran.
Gillian Trimboli-Zettler will join the Charleston Wine + Food Festival staff in early 2014, the festival announced Tuesday. She has served as director of Euphoria Greenville since 2011. Although that annual festival emphasizes music as well as food and drink, CWF board Chairman Johnny Wallace said her leadership experience in the field will translate well to Charleston.
The executive director position has been vacant since founding director Angel Postell resigned last spring.
Trimboli-Zettler, 31, was the unanimous choice of stakeholders who met with the finalists, a group that also included Doug Warner, development director for Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, and Pennie Bingham, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for business advancement.
“After a thorough national search, it was clear to both the search committee and the board of directors that Gillian’s enthusiasm, passion and experience leading Euphoria made her a great fit for this position,” Wallace said in a release.
Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress has participated in Euphoria the past two years, and said he is struck by the events’ similar approach to operations. “If they don’t hear from you, you get a gentle nudge,” Deihl said of both festivals’ adherence to deadlines.
And while Euphoria is a smaller affair, Deihl said the programming generally mirrors Charleston Wine + Food’s schedule.
“I wouldn’t see any distinct change (under Trimboli-Zettler),” said Deihl, who had no involvement in the search process.
According to Trimboli-Zettler, one of her proudest achievements at Euphoria was “making sure people were really endeared to the event.” She applied for the job in Charleston largely because she sensed that eaters here already were deeply invested in their culinary reputation and the festival’s role in promoting it.
“One of the things that drew me in was the passion about the food scene,” Trimboli-Zettler said. “In comparison to Greenville, Greenville is growing, but Charleston has done an amazing job. There are so many different demographics who care about the food scene.”
Joe Clarke, chef and owner of The American Grocery in Greenville, echoed Trimboli-Zettler’s assessment of the different cities.
“There are some challenges up here,” Clarke said, alluding to a certain culinary conservatism. “In Charleston, she’ll be able to make great things happen for the festival.”
Clarke, who hasn’t been involved in Euphoria for a few years, described Trimboli-Zettler as “super professional. She’s always very receptive to ideas from chefs, always looking to make (the festival) better and get better chefs in here.”
Moving to Charleston
When Trimboli-Zettler gave up her job as the Children’s Museum of the Upstate’s event manager to serve as Euphoria’s director, the first thing she did in her new position was purchase tickets to Charleston Wine + Food. She has attended every year since, taking note of how signs were designed, sponsors recognized and tables arranged.
“The team has done an amazing job,” she said, applauding the current festival staff for putting together the 2014 program without the help of a permanent executive director. “I know it’s hard when there’s not one person.”
Festival spokeswoman Ashley Zink didn’t disclose Trimboli-Zettler’s salary but said her pay would fall within the advertised range of $80,000 to $110,000.
Search committee member Dick Elliott said the salary constraints may have “narrowed the field” of applicants, but he’s very satisfied with the hire.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘We have one of the world’s great food festivals, why don’t we have one of the world’s great festival directors?’ ” said Elliot, whose Maverick Southern Kitchens group runs restaurants in Greenville and Charleston. “My first thought is ‘Well, maybe we do.’ ”
Elliott praised Trimboli-Zettler’s collaborative leadership style and industriousness, adding that he considered making her a job offer if she didn’t accept the director position.
The festival’s search committee was especially interested in finding a candidate who had previously demonstrated an ability to develop and work within budgets. Although Euphoria’s tax returns show the nonprofit lost money in one of the last three years, leaving it with $8,800 in assets at the end of 2012, Trimboli-Zettler said the organization has donated $200,000 to charity over its eight-year history.
“Events are a tough beast, for sure,” Trimboli-Zettler said.
The Euphoria board, which Trimboli-Zettler described as highly supportive of her CWF candidacy, will now conduct a search process to determine her successor.
“They think it’s a great opportunity for me,” she said. “The more successful food events we have in South Carolina, the more you’re getting that influx (of food tourists).”
Trimboli-Zettler declined to offer any explicit vision for the festival going forward — “It’s kind of unfair to assess that,” she said — but indicated she’s looking forward to “taking the pulse” of the local food community. She plans to move here with her husband and son by year’s end.
“I’m a door-always-open kind of person,” she said. “I’m just really looking forward to being in Charleston.”
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
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