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Restaurant Wars is coming back – and it’s going to be bigger

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 25, 2017, 10:30 a.m.

This is Clover’s winning dish - braised country-style short rubs with a chili-maple glaze, pickled stone fruit, wheatberry salad, fennel slaw and Cougar Gold cheese - at the inaugural Restaurant Wars event last year in Spokane. (Courtesy photo)
This is Clover’s winning dish - braised country-style short rubs with a chili-maple glaze, pickled stone fruit, wheatberry salad, fennel slaw and Cougar Gold cheese - at the inaugural Restaurant Wars event last year in Spokane. (Courtesy photo)

Restaurant Wars is coming back, and it’s going to be bigger and better, promises creator and organizer Kris Kilduff.

The second annual food festival and competition will feature more than twice the number of eateries as last year’s inaugural event. It will also be held at a bigger location, which will hopefully help curb some of the long lines fest-goers experienced last year when Restaurant Wars was held in the Kendall Yards development.

“It was a beautiful venue, but at the end of the day it was too small,” Kilduff said. “It was craziness. There was so much chaos.”

The event proved to be popular, and the crowd was bigger than expected. People complained about long lines and wait times.

So the second time around Kilduff is hosting his celebration of the local food scene at Avista Stadium, where attendees, vendors and eateries can spread out. He expects about the same number of people, if not more. But, since there are more restaurants participating this year – he’s planning for 18 in all – he also expects lines at each one to be shorter.

“Every (restaurant) from last year is back, plus a bunch more,” Kilduff said.

Last year, he sold 1,500 tickets. But, Kilduff said, “our crowd control estimated 3,500.”

Admission is free for the Sept. 30 event. But tasting tickets cost $17 each. This year, Kilduff is selling 3,000 tickets. Hard-core foodies might want to buy three per person.

That’s because – new this year – there are three categories: meat, veggie and gastropub, which Kilduff describes as “higher-end pub food such as Cougar Gold mac-and-cheese.”

He’s planning for six restaurants – and 1,000 tickets – per category.

His aim is to make Restaurant Wars – and its participating restaurants – approachable and accessible. “It’s for everyone,” he said, “not just foodies. If you’re that person who goes to Applebee’s all the time and you’re afraid of trying new places because you might not like them, here’s your chance to try 18 of them” – at what he considers a manageable price.

“These aren’t sample sizes,” he said. “You’re getting small plates.”

Tickets for this year’s event went on sale online in mid July. Similar to last year, Kilduff said he plans to plant what he’s calling “golden tickets” at some of his favorite local restaurants around town – as well as other spots – when it gets closer to the date of the event. He’ll leave photos and hints on social media, including the Restaurant Wars Facebook page, and folks who find them get to sample fare for free.

Kilduff expects the second annual Restaurant Wars to sell out. Those who can’t get tickets are still encouraged to check out the vendors, beer garden, live music and food trucks. “It’ll be set up like farmers market, except on a baseball field,” said Kilduff, who describes himself as “the ultimate foodie.”

He’s also a marketer and promoter who’s organized other local productions such as Spokane’s Top Model and Spokane’s Got Talent. He’s organizing Restaurant Wars in collaboration with Jennifer Evans of Encore Events, just like last year.

Kilduff, inspired by events such as Bite of Seattle and Feast Portland as well as reality TV contests, started the event to showcase Spokane’s burgeoning local food scene.

Last year, there was one winner. This year, there will be one winner in each category. Winners will receive a metal sculpture – bacon for meat, avocado for veggie and cheese for gastropub – by Newman Metalworks.

In addition to more restaurants, the festival’s beer garden will be twice the size as last year with nine breweries and one cidery. Last year, there were five breweries, and, Kilduff said, “We blew our first keg in 16 minutes.”

Also new this year: a free Restaurant Wars app. Fest-goers can cast their votes via the app instead of text message like last year. The app will also map out booths, provide restaurant information and describe the small plate each restaurant will be offering, Kilduff said.

In addition to the popular vote, there will be three local judges, about 30 vendors and a food fight. Fest-goers don’t get to throw things. But their donations will be used to “buy” items – such as mustard, tomatoes and cream pies – for two different teams to hurl at each other to raise money for charity.

“It’s going to be super fun,” Kilduff said.