Columbus, Ohio
Along with recognition for its Food Truck Festival and ice cream, 2016 culinary accolades for Ohio’s capital city include its emerging coffee and distillery scenes. Capitalizing on this popularity, Experience Columbus created Cocktails and Coffee, a 24-hour FAM that includes afternoon cocktails and morning coffee tied to a themed event, including fashion in October and food in November.

With Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery attracting national attention for its award-winning libations, the 13-member Columbus Coffee Trail, launched in 2014, is an effective visitor draw.

“We encourage attendees to explore and get a taste of the city,” said Lexi Sweet, public relations coordinator for Experience Columbus. “Nearly half of the Coffee Trail redemptions—visit four members and get a Columbus Coffee T-shirt—come from visitors.”

Housed in a restored 19th century brick warehouse, North Market, steps from the Greater Columbus Convention Center, is another appetizing attendance-builder. Filled with local food vendors, the venue hosted the closing celebration for the 17th annual American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National Conference & Exhibition last year.

“The organizers called it their best closing event anywhere,” Sweet said.

At the Hilton Columbus Downtown, connected by skywalk to the convention center and featuring Gallerie Bar & Bistro, Chef Bill Glover champions local sourcing—including honey from his rooftop bees. Glover also represented Columbus at a James Beard dinner in New York last year.

Greater Columbus CVB

St. Louis
The “Gateway City,” where the ice cream cone, iced tea and hot dog were introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair, has an interesting challenge. While globally renowned for its barbecue and historic Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, true to its Midwest character, shies away from boasting about its culinary bonanza. With local icons including Pi Pizzeria’s deep dish and thin cornmeal crust pizza and Gooey Butter Cake, an accidental creation from the 1930s, the magic is in the discovery.

“Planners seek destinations offering attractive off-agenda options, including F&B, which is often not included in the program,” said John Bettag, vice president of sales for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. “With developments like MX, the mixed-use, high-amenity downtown district that includes diverse dining concepts, we have advanced our ability to highlight our culinary offerings and create positive stories that get sold up the food chain to the decision-makers.”

With Pi and local treasure Snarf’s Sandwiches among the venues in MX, abundant options beckon in all directions. From high-quality sushi to authentic Peruvian, St. Louis first surprises then delights the palate. Knowledgeable delegates make a beeline for the Memphis-style St. Louis barbecue at top-rated Pappy’s Smokehouse.

Barbecue also speaks for St. Louis abroad.

In 2015, award-winning Sugarfire Smoke House was invited by Kevin O’Malley, U.S. ambassador to Ireland and St. Louis native, to join a trade mission to Dublin. With Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, among the delegates, Sugarfire’s fare, plus Anheuser-Busch beverages, were a hit. One of only two non-Australian competitors, Sugarfire placed 12th out of 47 in the A&E Sydney Barbecue Wars this February.

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission

Richmond, Va.
The food accolades keep coming for Virginia’s capital city. Crowned “The Next Great American Food City” by Departures in 2014, Richmond has now made National Geographic Traveler’s elite “Where to Travel for Food in 2016” list. Plus, an unprecedented three James Beard semifinalists for “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2015 (Lee Gregory, The Roosevelt; Dale Reitzer, Acacia Mid-Town; Peter Chang, Peter Chang China Cafe), and another this year for David Shannon, whose L’Opossum is giddy culinary theater.

Richmond Region Tourism reports that attendees of last year’s International Particle Accelerator Conference, representing 40-plus countries, said Richmond’s dining scene “reminded them of, if not surpassed, European culinary experiences.”

The culinary prowess of “River City” was influential in securing the Food Protection Conference for 2018.

“The explosion of craft brewers combined with a burgeoning food scene that is winning national acclaim in Richmond and throughout Virginia is driving interest in holding meetings and events here,” said Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, who actively supported the bid process. “Meeting planners and attendees want to stay where they can get local flavor.”

Star chef Jason Alley of rave-reviewed Pasture and Comfort restaurants partners with Richmond Region Tourism on client dinners and guest engagements. His signature pimento cheese has proven so popular on site visits that the bureau’s sales team handed out measuring spoons and the recipe as tradeshow booth giveaways last year.

Meanwhile, each November, the four-day Fire, Flour & Fork food festival is its own marketing engine, attracting hungry crowds from as far away as California and Canada.

Richmond Region Tourism