A six-year-old whiskey festival abruptly relocated from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit this week just days ahead of the event, sparking calls from ticket holders on social media for refunds. Whiskey Business promises attendees an evening of sampling 100 different whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches from “across continents.” However, people were surprised when Whiskey Business organizers posted to social media on Thursday, February 14 that the event would be relocating from the Royal Oak Farmers Market to Greektown’s Atheneum Suite Hotel. The event is scheduled for Saturday, February 16.
Shortly after the announcement, the Whiskey Business Facebook event page was inundated with complaints from ticket holders raising concerns about the event’s location to another city 20 minutes away. Some commenters shared their disappointment about the added cost of transportation for traveling to Greektown for a liquor-centric event that they had planned to walk to from homes or hotels. Event vendors including Michigan distiller Davenport’s Whiskey and Temperance Distilling also expressed surprise and confusion about the change of address as they shared the news of the relocation. “Not sure what’s going on, but if you were going, they changed the venue,” Davenport wrote on its Facebook page, sharing the announcement. Another vendor, Dough Joe’s Artisan Chocolates attributed the change of venue to construction in downtown Royal Oak.
On Thursday evening, some observers noted that someone was deleting the negative comments from the Whiskey Business events page. In fact, as pictured below, Eater has observed several more comments deleted from the original post without explanation.
Whiskey Business is a seasoned event. In previous years Ultimate Fun Productions in Ferndale and Real Detroit Events promoted the festival, which costs between $45 and $65 per person. Real Detroit Events is owned by former Real Detroit Weekly publisher John Badanjek. Badanjek registered Whiskey Business’s current producer Detroit Art Initiative as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit last year. The organization has also become a lead promoter for many other annual events that were once run by Ultimate Fun and Real Detroit including Wine Lovers and Beer Snobs and Vodka Rox.
On its website, Detroit Art Initiative states that it’s an organization “dedicated to helping local schools and students obtain supplies and funding for art programs.” Whiskey Business’s website states that proceeds from the event will go to benefit the organization’s programs and that, “the Detroit Art Initiative retains all profits.”
So why did Whiskey Business abandon its downtown Royal Oak location?
Speaking to Eater by phone on Friday morning, Badanjek says that his organization had been looking for ways to work with the Atheneum Suite Hotel for quite some time and despite the last-minute inconveniences to ticket holders decided to take the chance to relocate to Greektown. “The opportunity presented itself, so we thought we would take advantage of the opportunity to move to downtown Detroit,” Badanjek says. “For the most part the reaction has been pretty positive,” he adds.
Badanjek says staff were in the process of responding out to ticket holders who reached out directly with concerns about the unexpected venue change. When pressed about why the organization had chosen to remove negative comments from its pages, he said “I’d have to ask our social media staff.”
Badanjek went on to state that he understands why some ticket holders might be upset at the move. “Again, for us, we see it as a positive change. Obviously two days before the event is not ideal.”
While Detroit Art Initiative characterized the change of location as an opportunity to work with a different venue besides the Royal Oak Farmers Market, representatives for Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs tell a different story. LARA communications manager David Harns confirms to Eater that Detroit Art Initiative’s liquor license application was denied by the Liquor Control Commission on Wednesday, February 13 — one day prior to the announced relocation. The reasons for the denial weren’t immediately available and LARA “can’t confirm or comment” on any investigations at this time. There are currently no other applications pending with the LCC regarding the change of venue.
Eater called and left messages with Badanjek for further comment on the change of venue and the licensing denial. Calls were not returned at the time of publication.
Whiskey Business isn’t the only metro Detroit event to face controversy. Last year, the Detroit Sushi Festival was forced to issue refunds to attendees who claimed they encountered long lines and very little actual food. The Detroit China Festival later came under fire after being swamped by hungry ticket holders. It too, eventually agreed to issue a limited number of refunds. With so much uncertainty about the quality of events, some food lovers have decided they just won’t go to food festivals anymore.