Imagine if your job involved planning a festival specifically for desserts...Liang Shi is living every sweet tooth lovers dream as the co-founder of @omgdessertgoals, a dessert festival in NYC and Los Angeles. Read on to see how they turned this brilliant idea into a thriving reality. One thing is for sure...we always save room for dessert!
Hi, Liang! Please introduce yourself.
Howdy!! I'm Liang Shi, co-founder of Dessert Goals, a festival celebrating DESSERT (#bestjobever). My background is in design and photography, and fun fact, I used to be a wedding photographer for six years when I was in college. These days, I focus on experience design, which basically means designing for all five senses. I am obsessed with the details of how things make people feel. I also run a matcha pop-up called Ma Matcha and started a dinner series called Fun Fun Dinners that brings strangers together over a meal to play.
It baffles us that NYC never had a dessert festival before you came along! Please share your story of how @omgdessertgoals came to be.
My friend Miraya and I were eating shaved snow last June and musing about potentially collaborating on something together. Her background is in event production, and I'm a designer, and we were eating dessert. The idea of a dessert festival popped up, and we were sure it already existed. We could not believe our brains when we couldn't find anything! After that, it was like an unignorable calling. We came up with a name on the spot, registered the domain, picked a date, found a venue and pulled from our savings to put down a deposit. We kind of just crossed our fingers that people would want to come. We created an event on Facebook, and it went viral -- over 40,000 people were interested in attending, and we only had 1,000 tickets. I think it's been a success because it's such a fun concept. You get to have fun and indulge and feel like a little kid again!
"We created an event on FB, and it went viral - over 40K people were interested in attending. We only had 1,000 tickets."
How do you decide which vendors to feature at the festival? You recently added a dessert festival in LA, any other cities on the horizon?
We hand-curate every single vendor at the festival and avoid as much category overlap as possible. That means one cupcake vendor, one cookie vendor, one cotton candy vendor, etc. This also means we get to pick the very best of the best in each category! A lot of research and taste testing goes into the process, and we even have a dedicated "Dessert Research" budget in our accounting books (#priorities). My partner Miraya moved to L.A. recently, which is why we decided to expand to L.A.! There's so much dessert variety out there from all different cultures. We're looking into expanding to other cities in the near future!
Let's talk social. We love your Instagram grid so much! How has IG played a part in the success of the festival? What strategies have you taken to accomplish this?
Our events go viral on Facebook, but Instagram is where we lean on to build the brand. When people see the colorful, high-quality images of the desserts they'll be eating; I think it builds up the excitement and anticipation, and creates an idea of what to expect at the festival. We want them to expect the same level of quality, fun, and colorfulness that we try to convey on our Instagram.
One big focus of our event is that we try to make it as Instagrammable as possible. For example, we noticed people love to shoot desserts being held by one hand. Because of that, we designed different backdrops for people to photograph their desserts in front of! We also have an "Instagram Garden" at every event, which is the spot with the best lighting, and lots of photo opportunities inside.
What are your top three rules for photographing and Instagramming dessert content?
1. Shoot it fast before it melts.
2. Eat it immediately afterward. This is your reward for all your hard work.
3. Tell people all about the dessert in the caption (exact ingredients, how it's made). This usually creates a mouth watering reaction and increases engagement.
You have extensive experience as a Graphic Designer. How have your design skills played a role in the success of Dessert Goals?
One thing that sets our event apart from other food festivals is that we have a very strong brand. I wanted Dessert Goals to feel fun, playful, colorful and happy -- much like how dessert itself feels to me. We try to convey this from all aspects, from the music you hear, to the smell of fresh waffles being made when you walk in through the door, but especially visually. I think my experience in graphic design helps to convey all of those vibes visually, too.
If we are visiting NYC for 24 hours, what are some of the best spots in NYC to get dessert?
Honestly, if you're going to be in NYC for 24 hours, try to plan it around Dessert Goals because you'll get to eat 20+ different desserts all in one spot (less walking, more eating. haaay!). If that's not possible, I'd recommend heading to the East Village. I literally picked my apartment location because of the proximity to dessert within a five block radius. (I am not joking.) While there, check out: Chikalicious, Snowdays, Sundaes & Cones, 10 Below, Pa Tea, Mikey Likes It Ice Cream and Cupcake Market.
What advice do you have for someone looking to take chances and start something new?
Oh my god, just do it. Pick the easiest, simplest way to start, and just do that. Then pick the next easiest thing, and do that. Once you've done all the easy things, you'll realize the momentum has built up. The daunting thing is sometimes we focus on the end result, which of course is a million crazy hard things we need to do to get there. I recommend making a list of the next five things you need to do, do it, then write down the five after that. When you break it down to just what's in front of you, it feels a lot more manageable.