Volunteers Pull Off Dueling Pop-Up Picnic

Foodies upset over the online registration process of Dîner en Blanc -- the all-white, fanciful pop-up picnic taking place at an undisclosed location Thursday – vowed less than five weeks ago to host their own event, Dîner en Noir, on the same evening. With promises of a celebration on par with the frost-colored affair yet distinguished by its charitable qualities, a team of volunteers pulled off their daunting mission.

"The passion of the team is what made this happen," said Chris Nowaczyk, who founded Dîner en Noir after DEB’s website malfunctioned when he tried to secure his tickets July 17. "You can’t teach passion. These people are go-getters."

One day after Nowacyzk’s frustration led to the creation of the darker-hued dinner, he pledged Dîner en Noir would differ from DEB by maintaining transparency about the number of seats available and the destination of ticket dollars, providing tables and chairs for the participants, and donating any profits from ticket sales to a nonprofit organization.

All these seemingly lofty goals were made about a month before Dîner en Noir’s intended date of Aug. 21, which was scheduled the same night as DEB because, as Nowacyzk puts it, there were thousands of people already planning to partake in a pop-up picnic.

“Permits, insurance, security, we had to do all of that,” Nowacyzk said.

And they did.

Nowacyzk credits several project managers, including Jennifer Castellanos-Graham, who volunteered their time.

"Their input is the reason why some of these small details worked out," he said.

Like DEB, Dîner en Noir will begin, rain or shine, at 7 p.m. at an outdoor Philadelphia location unknown to ticket holders until moments before it begins. Instead of head-to-toe white, Noir's attendees will wear black with a pop of red. Participants, who are 21-years-old or older, at each event are welcome to bring either two bottles of wine or a six-pack of beer.

About 3,500 people are set to attend DEB at a cost of $68.50 for two seats.

More than 300 people paid $50 for two spots at Noir’s inaugural fete, with about half the ticket cost going to charity, Nowacyzk explained.

"We are going to split it 50-50 with Philabundance and the event location, which is a nonprofit as well," explained Nowacyzk, who declined to share any other details about the setting.

DEB diners have two food options – bring their own or choose to purchase from two catering options. Noir mirrored that setup, although four different vendors were offered.

DJ Bruce and Craig Dash will be spinning records at DEB, among other yet-to-be-announced performers. The West Philly Orchestra and DJ Robert Drake, an on-air host at WXPN, will serenade Noir’s guests.

Noir is providing tables and chairs for approximately 60 people, Nowacyzk said.

The remaining guests can bring their own tables and chairs, which is how DEB operates. But buses from Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours will transport Noir’s diners from the four gathering spots, where they meet before a volunteer leads them to the surprise destination.

“We lessen the load by providing the bus,” he said.

Eliminating the walk also gave those who felt physically unable to attend DEB, like the elderly or disabled, the opportunity to join Noir, he added.

Uber, the ride sharing service, has partnered with both groups to provide discounted rides as well.

And the final key difference between the dueling pop-up picnics was the registration process, Nowacyzk said.

“When we first released the tickets, there were 380 people on our numbered queue that had signed up on our contact page,” he said. “It was really a first-come, first-serve, transparent registration process.”

DEB, on the other hand, “never said we have 100 tickets left and we sent out 10,000 email invites to buy,” he said.

Making details about Noir’s ticket availability and funds will continue with future picnics, since the group is completing a 501C3 registration, Nowacyzk said.

“We said we are going to be transparent,” he said. “We’ll have our book ready to divulge to the world what was spent and donated.”

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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