The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella. Modernism Week. The Palm Springs International Film Festival. There’s no shortage of festivals in the Coachella Valley—yet creatives are still finding ways to bring in even more events.
Yum Fest is a food-truck festival returning to Palm Desert on Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, starting at 5 p.m. each day. Located on top of the parking structure at The Shops at Palm Desert (formerly the Westfield Mall), the second iteration of the festival will feature dozens of food, dessert and drink trucks, with tickets starting at $5—unless you’re a first responder, veteran or a senior, in which case admission is free.
“I have a business partner, Justin Finn, and he approached me about this idea of bringing a food festival to the valley last July,” said Jesus Calderon, director of marketing for Yum Fest, during a recent phone interview. “We both have backgrounds doing events and promoting for nightclubs and bars and casinos, but neither of us had ever done a food festival. He came to me with the idea of possibly being his partner in the whole thing, and I was waiting for the right opportunity to do something large-scale—with thousands of people rather than hundreds of people, which was what I did for years here in the valley. From 2015 to 2019, I promoted for Copa Nightclub, Zelda’s Nightclub, the Village Pub, Bart Lounge and some of the casinos. I’m grateful to say I was successful in doing that, and that’s how I got a pretty decent following in the valley.”
Last July, Finn approached Calderon with the idea of doing a food-truck festival.
“I loved the idea,” he said. “I really thought it was something that the valley has never really had, so we felt like it would be a great opportunity. … Our valley is known for Coachella, Stagecoach, Splash House and all these major festivals, but they’re music and art festivals, and we’re food first. We do have music as well; we have live entertainment—a nice, big stage—and we do invest in having a nice show for people to watch while they’re eating, but we’re food first, and that’s the main difference.”
The first Yum took place last October, and Calderon said they picked the mall’s parking structure as the location partially because of beauty—and partially because of strategy.
“They have murals and artwork up there, which already makes it a pretty dope scene, on top of the scenery with the mountains and the palm trees,” Calderon said. “We decided to do it at the mall, because we felt like that was pretty much the heart of the valley. I actually used to work at the mall for four years as a manager, so I already kind of knew that everybody in the valley, if they’re going to go shopping for clothes, or shoes, or gifts, most people are going to stop by the Palm Desert mall. We also had it on a Saturday, probably the busiest day at the mall, so we knew we were going to get a lot of that traffic, and we did.”
No inaugural version of any festival is going to off without a hitch—and the biggest problem at the first Yum was caused by its success.
“We really didn’t know how many people were going to come to this thing,” Calderon said. “We pre-sold about 2,200 tickets, so we felt good about that, but we were hoping to get 5,000 people. … That was the goal that we had in our head, and that’s what we were telling our vendors … and we ended up having close to 7,500 people.
“It’s great that we blew past our number that we wanted, but at the same time, it caused us to need to make improvements. Because of the crazy extra thousands, we had long waits in line just to order food, and then obviously a pretty long time just to get your food. Some waited an hour and a half; it was like trying to get on a ride at Disneyland. Most vendors even sold out! I felt bad about it … but at the end of the night, most people told us they had a great time, and that they couldn’t wait for the next one. I would say 99% of people understood this was the first one, and nobody really thought that many people would show up for this.
“Another thing that really hurt us was we had five food vendors cancel on us the week of the event. Obviously, having five less food vendors is going to create longer lines and longer waits. That, combined with the extra people, is something that we’re now going to be ready for.”
Calderon and his collaborators decided to expand the festival from one day to two.
“That’s the first major change we made that we feel is definitely going to help spread out the attendance,” Calderon said. “A lot of people were telling us or asking us to do two days, so it was really by popular demand that we decided to do that.”
The second major change: Calderon said they’re going to have “a lot more of everything,” including staff, seating and cleaning-crew members. “The spacing is going to be a little bit different so that the flow of the traffic is better. I think it’s going to be a lot smoother with shorter wait times for people, which is the most important thing to me, because I want people to feel comfortable and not have to wait an hour just to get their food.”
Calderon said he is proud of how far he and his team have come.
“We had a few sponsors for the first Yum, but for this one, we have about five sponsors on board that we’re really excited about, including the city of Palm Desert,” Calderon said. “I feel like it’s huge to have the city of Palm Desert supporting us. We can include their logo on our fliers, and it makes it look like a legit public event.
“It’s myself, Justin and our third partner, Esther Power. … It’s three locals who are putting this whole thing together, and we have other people who help us now, which we’re super grateful for.
“With this second Yum, we want to prove that the first one wasn’t a fluke. Anybody can have a great first event, so for the second one, we want to do another 7,000 people each day, then come back in October and do 10,000 people each day. We want to make Yum a staple in the valley.”
Yum Fest will take place on Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, at The Shops at Palm Desert, 72840 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. General admission hours are 5 to 11 p.m.; VIP ticket-holders can get in at 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 to $40, with free admission to first responders, veterans, seniors and children 5 and under. For more information, visit yumfoodfest.com/palm-desert.