For many, the 626 Night Market was a logistical nightmare. Tens of thousands of people poured into Oakland Avenue between Colorado Boulevard and Union Street on Friday evening. Lines for vendors were impossible to maneuver through and many compared the turnout to that of Coachella or the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival.
“I waited in line for two and a half hours,” UCLA junior Daniel Hsu said. “It was pretty crazy. They should have known how many people were coming. It was all over Facebook.”
But according to the organizers, the turnout far exceeded their expectations. “We had 8,000 Facebook fans on April 14, and that's what we expected,” Jonny Hwang, one of the founders said. “But how do you prepare for 8,000 versus say, 30,000?” Hwang said he's still awaiting a formal attendance estimate from the authorities.
He also emphasized that, unlike veteran Southern California events like Coachella, the 626 Night Market was planned by a team of three — Hwang, wife Janet and friend Brian Gi.
“As a first-time event, it was difficult for the city and us to project attendance,” Hwang said. “The city often hears organizers throwing out large numbers, but oftentimes only a few thousand at best show up. The only data we had was from our online presences, but extrapolating attendance off of that isn't an exact science.”
Throughout the weekend, comments poured into Yelp, Twitter and the Night Market's Facebook page — a lot of them negative. “We've received some angry emails directly, but we've received many more supportive ones from complete strangers,” Hwang
said. “Social media made our event big and we will continue to use feedback from social media to address issues.”
Some were humorous:
And others were much more brutal:
The negativity has not been lost on the organizers, who are taking it as a learning experience. “We really want to give thanks to a lot of those who supported us even if they didn't have an eventful night,” Gi said. “For them to even take the time to check us out, that was very important to us.”
Currently re-evaluating their strategy, the organizers have yet to formally decide whether to continue. “If people really don't want to support it, there's no convincing them,” Hwang said. “But if we do continue, it's definitely for all of the people who have been writing a lot of positive stuff and constructive criticisms. When people tell us we shouldn't give up, that's really special to us.
And for some, the overcapacity was a testament to the potential of Asian-Americans:
Gi, who hopes to put on another Night Market, said the demand is definitely still there. “Again, we tried our best to make the first event as eventful as possible. And I think in the eyes of a lot of people, we did do that, they just hope that it can be a better one,” Gi said. “I personally think we tried our hardest putting on something that hopefully Southern California can use to put ourselves more on the map. So that we can say, Southern California has our own Asian Night Market.”
Hwang said he's also seriously considering giving the concept another go. “It's not lost upon us that people waited in long lines for parking and food. That sucks and that's why they came. All the comments and suggestion like next time more food vendors, better venue, more parking — yeah, we're definitely going to do that.”
He added: “Hopefully, people might be willing to give us a second chance if we mitigate all the problems we had the first time and show them we listened to all the comments. We're trying to improve for our supporters.”
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa manages the food blog SGVFoodie. Reach the author at clarissawei.com or follow her on Twitter.