Meet the Newsmaker: Lee Schrager

Vice President of Corporate Communications & National Events at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc.

For those that don’t know you, tell us a little about your background. Where are you from? Where did you study? What’s your food and wine background?

I’m from Massapequa, NY and studied at the CIA.  My first job in the culinary world was working at the take-out counter of a Chinese place.

What led you to become a world-famous Food and Wine festival organizer?


With the thousands of New York restaurants, how do you possibly plan all the events into four days?

Strategically.  We use a variety of venues throughout the city and we’re always on the lookout for new places.  Our program is constantly evolving until the day our tickets go on sale.

Talk a little about the program. Is it specifically built for the city and what are some of the staple events that make it such a great event? 

New this year, we’ve moved our central hub into Midtown West and Hudson New York serves as our Headquarter Hotel.  Both new and returning signature events are taking place at new locations – with Pier 94 as the new home of the Southern Wine & Spirits of New York Trade Tasting presented by Beverage Media Group and our Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite featuring KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations presented by MasterCard. The adjacent Pier 92 will host the Festival’s iconic Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Rachael Ray and Olmeca Altos Tequila presents Tacos & Tequila hosted by Bobby Flay, as well as new events including: Jets + Chefs Ultimate Tailgate presented by diet Pepsi hosted by Joe Namath & Mario Batali, and La Sagra Sunday Slices sponsored by Time Out New York hosted by Anne Burrell & Adam Richman.      

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Who are some of the partners that help make the festival come together and how does their role help? 

All of our partners are important to us in a variety of ways – starting with our title sponsor Food Network and presenting sponsor FOOD & WINE. Our friends at The New York Times, Delta and MasterCard, our official card, and many others, all contribute to our success.

It’s great that you have volunteers. How many work the festival and what are some of those roles? 

In 2012, more than 1,600 volunteers donated over 11,000 hours of time to help us produce the Festival.  They work in a variety of roles, including event registration, logistics management, sponsorship assistance, marketing, and more.

What hunger-relief programs benefit from the festival? 

To date, the Festival has raised more than $6 million for our beneficiaries Food Bank For New York City and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

This is the festival’s 6th year. What made you feel there was a need for the 1st festival and how has it evolved?

There was nothing like it on such a large scale – we bring together that great mix of pop culture and white tablecloth lifestyle experiences so that there really is something for everyone.

What does the NYC Wine and Food Festival experience entail? 

We have 100+ events over the four days – from grand walk-around tastings and late-night parties, to intimate dinners, educational seminars and brunches – so the experience can be whatever suits you. 

What are the most challenging issues when creating a festival of this magnitude? 

Aligning all of the elements – venue, event theme, talent, and sponsors – to create the best experience possible.

Whether you’re a foodie or a foodservice professional, is there a learning experience to take away from this event for everyone?

We hope the learning experience is packaged in with the fun – whether it’s tasting a new wine or spirit, seeing a new product, meeting your favorite chef, or discovering a new restaurant/venue.