SoDel Fest focused on more than wine, food and fun

Organizers behind the Southern Delaware Wine, Food & Music Festival (SoDel Fest, for short) this week kicked off their preparations for the Oct. 7 festival set near Millsboro with an event aimed at offering just a taste of what this year’s festival will hold — gourmet food, the chance to taste a variety of wines and something equally appetizing to the ears of music lovers: local music.

At a June 13 invitation-only event targeted at potential sponsors and promotional partners and held at the new Bluecoast Grill location in Rehoboth Beach, Executive Director Stacy LaMotta of Creative Coastal Connections Corp., which organizes the annual fundraising event, introduced the elements of this year’s festival.

“I created this festival three years ago to celebrate and share all the things I love about Southern Delaware with others,” said LaMotta. “With each year, I strive to find new ways to inspire a deeper love for cuisine, drink and music for our guests, and I really think we have something fantastic going this year.”

“This year’s festival is focused on experiences,” said LaMotta. “As our guest, you aren’t just attending an event, you are stepping into a carefully crafted world designed to engage your senses and ensure unmatched hospitality.”

The guests of the 2017 festival will have the choice of three different experiences: the Private Reserve Experience, the Festival Experience and a Learning Experience, which can be added as an option to either of those experiences.

New and limited to only 100 guests, the Private Reserve Experience offers two days of red-carpet treatment, beginning Friday, Oct. 6, with an exclusive five-course seated dinner hosted by a Master Sommelier at Baywood Greens, and continuing with full-day access to an exclusive lounge seating area during the main SoDel Fest event the following afternoon.

Saturday, Oct. 7, from noon to 4 p.m. at Independence Clubhouse near Millsboro, the 2017 SoDel Fest will be in full swing for everyone, offering an array of food from more than 18 Southern Delaware restaurants; diverse and critically acclaimed wines, craft beers and cocktails; cooking demonstrations; blind tastings; live music; a surprise competition and more.

It’s ‘about the kids’

SoDel Fest has been named “Delmarva’s Hippest Wine, Food & Music Festival,” but beyond the delights it offers for foodies and music lovers, the event in its first three years has raised more than $43,000 to support local charities, and it was those charities that were a focus of the June 13 kickoff event.

Representatives of the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Fund, Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation and Children & Families First shared stories of the impact the donated funds will make in the local community by investing the lives and futures of its children.

“These beneficiaries help kids,” LaMotta said. “What better cause than that?”

Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, spoke of the group’s training programs for young people, emphasizing that they teach not only skills for work in the food industry but “the skills they need to fend for themselves.”

Noting that 1 in 10 Delawareans works in a restaurant, Leishman said their efforts began as a way to change the state’s culinary curriculum. What has evolved are programs in 19 schools, training 3,000 students in aspects of the restaurant industry that extend beyond food preparation and into management and more.

“They learn important life skills and the thought skills they need to be successful,” she said.

That includes 400 hours of paid work experience, certifications and more.

In the state’s lower-income areas — some of which, she emphasized, are right next to the wealthier beach communities — the programs aren’t just about going to school and getting a degree, but about learning skills that the students need to be independent as adults.

“These are programs that teach teenagers how to work,” she said, adding, “This is a wonderful place to have a career, and we’re training the next generations.”

Jeff Gordon, president of the board of directors for the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation (CHEF), and Cape Henlopen School District Superintendent Robert Fulton spoke about the impact of the funds raised on the district’s CHEF program, which has a mission “to inspire learning and help students develop to their full potential.

Introducing Savannah Shockley, a senior at Cape Henlopen High School and the evening’s musical entertainment, Gordon noted the value of the program’s support for the arts, which has included fundraising of $250,000 that is particularly targeted at low-income students.

Fulton said the funding has “helped close the gaps” in the program, leading to a first-place win in a state culinary competition. He spoke about a homeless student whose trip to that competition had been funded partly by CHEF and who subsequently received a college scholarship. Another, he said, has been working three jobs to support herself and her family, but she now also has a scholarship.

He noted also the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which focuses on role models and skills, and which he said has been “instrumental in making sure they can get to college.” The programs have offered some Sussex County students the chance to go to Florida for science programs, when they had never previously left the county.

“There are more [of the less-fortunate] here than you would think,” he said.

The success of AVID was demonstrated this year in all 22 of the seniors in the program going on to college, despite having no family history of college education.

“Every dollar invested in CHEF is a dollar invested in our future,” he said.

Laura Rimmer of Children & Families First (CFF), a statewide program that has been in operation for 135 years and has an office in Georgetown, said that group’s programs “provide the vital difference between surviving and thriving. Many of our clients — everybody has given up on them,” she said, urging attendees to think of a special person who had made a major difference in their life.

“Think of that special person in your life and realize that not everyone has that person,” she said.

“Family, in all of its varied definitions, is the structure on which society is built, and the most fragile unit of that structure is children,” she added, saying that people don’t like to talk about the “ugly” things that happen, “but it’s there.”

Alyssa Titus, development director for CHEF, added, “This is happening here every day. There are kids who go to school with your kids who this is their reality.”

“The greatest thing is it’s easy [to fix], because you can be that one person,” Rimmer said, urging attendees to tell at least one other person about CFF. “We can make the fabric of community so strong that there’s ... no room for anyone to fall through the gaps.”

LaMotta emphasized that SoDel Fest isn’t just about “wine, food and fun, but about the kids.”

The event, she said, “offers organizations, small and large, a powerful avenue to give back to their communities,” as well as build brand awareness and loyalty, by becoming an event sponsor. Early sponsors include Bluecoast’s parent company, SoDel Concepts, as well as the Cape Gazette, Citgo, Meineke and Tunnel & Raysor. Sponsorship information can be found online at or by contacting

Tickets for the October event will be available online at starting July 1.

Tickets for the Private Reserve Experience cost $249 per person (100 tickets available), while general admission tickets for the festival itself cost $75 per person pre-sale. The Learning Experience (40 tickets available) costs an additional $35 per person and includes early admission to the festival at 11 a.m., with a chance to taste and learn directly from a Master Sommelier.

For more information, contact Stacy LaMotta at