A massive bazaar housing everything from burgers and burritos to donuts and dumplings, The Emporiyum is nothing short of a food lover’s fantasy. Founded three years ago by friends Sue-Jean Chun and Mindy Schapiro, the two-day foodie festival annually unites small-batch businesses to showcase some of the country’s most Instagram-worthy eats.
“That’s my idea of heaven—being able to try multiple crazy foods all under one roof,” says Chun, a restaurant publicist and self-proclaimed foodie. “My family comes every year and they always sort of divide and conquer. One person gets a lobster roll, another person gets some Shake Shack. Someone else gets dessert. And they all bring it back to the table to share together. It’s awesome.”
The pop-up market is set to return to the former Best Buy space at 600 E. Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor April 1-2. Though it might have started small—the inaugural Emporiyum in 2014 was held inside the Morgan Stanley building and boasted 45 vendors—the event has since grown to highlight a diverse group of 100 makers from Baltimore and beyond. Chun says that the evolution is indicative of the growth of the food scene at large.
“What I love about Baltimore is that we’re kind of a ‘no B.S.’ city,” she says. “There’s only room for authentic foods, foods that taste good, and places that people love. So we try to bring an event that adds to that scene.”
From new vendors to an overlap in the upcoming Light City festivities, we spoke with Chun about what locals can look forward to at this year’s Emporiyum. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
A spike in food vendors
This time around, attendees can expect to sample gourmet goodies from 100 vendors—an increase from last year’s event which saw an all-time high of 90. “Even though that’s just 10 more, it’s still 10 more of something totally different,” Chun says.
Organizers aim to provide a 50-50 ratio of Charm City purveyors and makers hailing from across the country. Local names will include fan favorites like Cream Cruiser, Ekiben, and The Local Oyster, as well as newbies such as handheld pie purveyor Awkpie, The Velvet Chocolatier, Picnic Pops, Sweet Tea & Cornbread, and South Mountain Creamery. Featured out-of-towners will include New York’s Eggloo, D.C.-based soup experts Prescription Chicken, Brother Floyd’s Righteous Pickles from Southern Pennsylvania, South Carolina-based Charleston Spice Company, and She Peppers—which crafts its signature sauces and seasonings in Alexandria, Virginia.
Chun says that locals enjoy seeing familiar faces working amongst national peers: “They don’t mind seeing some outsiders, they just want to see a core group of Baltimore makers, too,” she says. “That’s a cool thing for a city to be so proud.”
An expanded beverage presence
Though the festival is primarily food-centric, organizers are acknowledging the growth of Baltimore’s beverage scene by amping up the number of alcohol vendors. Aside from bringing back Union Craft Brewing, Hoop Tea, Charm City Meadworks, and Diamondback Brewing Company, the festival will introduce Sagamore Spirit rye and Baltimore Whiskey Company’s Shot Tower gin. “Baltimore is crushing it in the distilling game,” Chun says. “We’re a food event so we don’t try to overdo the beverage category, but there’s nothing better than having a quality drink while you’re trying out different foods.” Visiting vendors to look out for include Belle Isle Craft Spirits from Richmond, Virginia and Bruce Cost Ginger Ale from Brooklyn, New York.
New interior elements
Since it began, the fête has built a reputation of creating makeshift venues out of vacant city properties. (Foodies might remember the event being held in the former H&S Bakery distribution center in Harbor East before moving to the top-floor Best Buy space last year.) This year, staffers are hoping to completely transform the 30,000-square-foot blank canvas by incorporating new artwork, decor, and custom-made indoor swings that were a hit at The Emporiyum in D.C. last fall.
Looking ahead, Chun says that organizers could potentially feature Ping Pong, bocce courts, and a variety of other activities for kids if space allows: “People are starting to really make time for the Emporiyum,” she says. “Obviously some people come for an hour or two, but others want to make an entire day of it.”
Earlier date that coincides with Light City
Perhaps the festival’s most drastic change this year is its date, which was intentionally moved up to the first weekend in April to overlap with the weeklong Light City festivities running March 31-April 8. Traditionally held the last weekend in April, the event will now serve as an added attraction for folks headed to the Inner Harbor.
Aside from introducing more food options during opening weekend, Chun says that The Emporiyum provides visitors with a daytime activity while they await the glowing lights after dark. “We’re really excited to support something that was so great for the city last year,” Chun says. “The more food the merrier.”