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Cows 'n Cabs foodie fête returns to Winter Park Nov. 9

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 11/4/2019 By Amy Drew Thompson, Orlando Sentinel

It’s an annual event rife with glittering lights and transformed spaces, a party catered by some of the most lauded restaurants in Central Florida where live music emanates across the lush green of Winter Park’s most celebrated outdoor space.

It’s a fête where flutes filled with sparkling Veuve Clicquot clink together in a celebration that’s fed some $800,000 to Central Florida-based charities.

It’s posh. It’s elegant.

And as such, guests don their very best plaid and denim.

It’s Cows ‘n Cabs, which debuted in 2012 after a couple of Orlando’s hospitality heavy hitters — inspired by similar events like Pigs & Pinot out in California Wine Country — pooled their respective resources to create an event based evenly in both culinary excellence and the spirit of giving.

Not to mention a whole lot of fun. The party returns to Central Park on Saturday, Nov. 9.

“You go to so many different fundraisers and they’re wonderful,” says John Rivers, CEO and founder of 4R Restaurant Group and a co-creator of Cows ‘n Cabs, “but they’re often sit-down dinners and can be formal and stuffy and a little serious and we wanted this to be completely different.”

Now headed into its eighth year — growing with each — its safe to say that Orlando’s charitably inclined foodies were hungry for just that.

A glance at Cows ‘n Cabs “talent” listing is about as upmarket as any local foodie could desire – 1921, The Ravenous Pig, Luke’s Kitchen and Bar, The Glass Knife are just a few — and the beverages? Guests learn quickly that “Cabs” is a name-only distinction.

“We’ve got more than 300 types of cocktails,” says co-founder Dave Larue, vice president of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, whose connections have wrought incredible participation from the beverage world’s biggest names.

“There will be something for everybody at this party — whether you drink water or White Claw, cocktails or Cabernet.”

What’s best, they agree — is the cause behind it.

Cows ‘n Cabs supports children’s charities in Central Florida, including Elevate Orlando and After-School All-Stars Orlando, and with participation from 34 restaurants and 54 beverage purveyors (both up from 21 in Cows ‘n Cabs’ inaugural year), it is the team’s hope that this year, the western-themed event will break the $1 million mark, netting a cool $200,000 after all is said and done.

Sponsors bring specialty items for guests in the form of T-shirts and other fun giveaways, and it’s not limited to food and drink.

“Drew Estate hosts the Cigar Smoker and has been with us since Year One,” says Larue. “They’ve given over $50,000 to the charities in cash, but they also show up with hundreds of cigars and a lot of other swag.”

Guests often forget the “freebies” once they head into the silent-auction area where incredible donated items — all proceeds bound for charity — seduce guests to give even more.

“Bidding can happen anywhere,” says co-founder Tina Larue. “The photos will go live days ahead of the event so people can see what’s going to be available. Once bidding opens — after the party starts — they can do so online even if they don’t come to the party. For VIP guests, there will be a pre-opening at the party with high-end champagne and they can walk around and see the items up for auction.”

The Massey Stage will again host live music — with a rock-star surprise this year, Dave Larue adds. “The lead singers of Sister Hazel will be coming out to do an eight- or nine-song set with our band towards the end of the evening.”

Returning guests will note that the general party area has expanded, giving folks plenty of room to spread out. So has the Maher Law Firm VIP section, a hot ticket that tends to sell out ahead of the event.

“It’ll be flanked right off the stage so guests can sit and hang out and listen to live music while they enjoy premium beverages,” says Larue. “VIP is a great investment because you can walk around and eat first — enjoying all the food before you begin your beverage sampling.”

By all accounts among the foodie elite, it’s a can’t-miss event. Where else can you wear (stretch?) jeans and boots while sampling fare from James Beard-nominated chefs?

“The premise was always about having fun,” says Rivers. “Let’s invite people to a party but still have a great purpose behind it and have an impact.”

If you go

Cows ‘n Cabs will take place on Saturday, Nov. 9 in Winter Park’s West Meadow, 150 New York Avenue in Winter Park. Ticket holders have access to the entire, fenced-off park. It is a 21+ event. VIP tickets: $160; general admission: $120. For more information visit: cowsncabs.com

amthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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