There aren’t many times you’ll see a cowboy hat making its way down Park Avenue, but Saturday night that all changes with Cows ‘n Cabs.
The massive food and wine event is ready to boot scootin’ boogie into Central Park’s West Meadow with a mix of top-shelf drinks, top-cut beef, a slew of celebrity chefs and a live band that transforms the former Park Avenue Fashion Week tent into a classy country hoedown.
The event is in its fifth year now after getting off the ground with the help of local chef John Rivers of 4Rivers Smokehouse, who envisioned an event that could turn Winter Park a little bit country and raise money for charity at the same time.
Cows ‘n Cabs is from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24. Early VIP entry starts at 6 p.m. Visit cowsncabs.com for tickets and more information.
“I remember the first meeting we had about it,” Rivers said. “We’d just opened the first restaurant, and we definitely hadn’t taken a paycheck yet, but we were hoping we could pull it off. Since then it’s just continued to grow.”
With the event falling on or near the anniversary of the family’s eponymous smokehouse every year, Rivers says he treats it like a big party.
“It’s a definitely a special time for us,” Rivers said.
And that party keeps getting bigger every year.
Cows ‘n Cabs sold out all of its tickets the first year, and has been a massive draw for a few hundred guests each year since. Once they’re in the door, guests enjoy an all-you-can-eat-or-drink atmosphere dressed up like a John Wayne-themed party — be sure to bring your boots and 10-gallon hat.
Elevate Orlando, one of the event’s charity beneficiaries, has reaped the benefits of the event’s huge success, with $50,000 donated to the nonprofit last year. That money has helped tutor and mentor at-risk youth in some of Central Florida’s most struggling communities. Students mentored by the program have a 97-percent high school graduation rate, thanks to Elevate and just one night a year of donations and proceeds from Cows ‘n Cabs.
“It’s just a fun evening,” said Jack McGill, executive director of Elevate Orlando. “And for us, on a very personal level, it allows us to reach an additional 200-250 youths.”
The event also raises money for Community Food and Outreach Center, which helps feed the needy throughout Central Florida.
For Rivers, his self-imposed challenge, he said, is to try to top last year’s donations every year. So far it’s been successful.
“It’s a great event and a lot of fun, but you’re helping the community as well,” McGill said.