TAMPA – Why do people like to visit Lowry Park Zoo’s outdoor food festival, Zoofari?, the zoo’s president recently asked restaurant owners and managers participating in Saturday’s event.
“They come because Zoofari is known as an awesome party,” Craig Pugh told about 100 guests gathered for the annual Restaurant Night to honor the participants and prepare for the event.
“It’s the passion you bring to this event. It not just about the food,” Pugh said about the fundraiser expected to draw 5,000 or more supporters.
The 27th annual Zoofari will feature appetizers, main dishes, desserts and assorted beverages from Blue Bell Creamery, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., China Mist Tea, First Watch, Kona Grill, Lindt Chocolate, Mitchell’s Fish Market, Papa John’s Pizza, Seasons 52, Shells, Timpanos, The Art Institute of Tampa, Yacht Starship and others.
Each vendor is expected to have between 1,800 and 2,000 samples for guests, said Lew Craven, who for more than 15 years, has organized Restaurant Night with his wife, Patsy.
That’s a lot of ice cream for Blue Bell Creamery. But sales manager Barry Simpson said “participating is about supporting the community.”
He said the company has been in Tampa 10 years and has been at the zoo event for eight years.
The zoo’s history and impact in the community are why Joe and Alicia Keel of Keel & Curley Winery will be serving wine Saturday night.
“We are both huge animal lovers,” said Alicia Keel.
Some samples will be consumed by a team of celebrity judges who will taste the food at 6 p.m. for the overall winner, a title won in 2012 by Joe’s Crab Shack.
Any leftover food will be given to the nonprofit Tampa Bay Harvest, which will collect it at the end of the event, Craven said.
Zoofari also will include an Artists Safari with local artists featured, and music by Robert Randolph & The Family Band as well as other performers.
Pugh said the zoo, which has more than 1,600 animals, has more than 1 million visitors a year. About 80 percent of the operating costs is raised through memberships, admission and purchases. The rest is through special fundraisers, including Zoofari.