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Ace event planner ramps up Morro Bay's annual Avocado Margarita Festival to three-day extravaganza

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After a two-year hiatus, Morro Bay's annual festival spotlighting avocados and margaritas is getting a makeover from date night-planning guru Hannah Lique Naitove.

The proprietor of San Luis Obispo-based Project XO turned heads at the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce recently when she partnered with fellow chamber members Toast the Coast and Central Coast Lifts to set up luxury experiences for clients aboard their respective vessels.

Impressed by Project XO's private yacht charters and picnics aboard electric boats, chamber President and CEO Erica Crawford enlisted Lique Naitove's services for future projects, culminating with the chamber-sponsored 2022 Avocado Margarita Food & Drink Festival.

Lique Naitove possessed "a skill set we felt would match a smaller, more upscale event," Crawford said. "Hannah has been with us every step of the way on this reimagining journey as an independent contractor."

"I was extremely honored and really liked the direction ... the Morro Bay chamber was going post-pandemic," particularly in regard to bolstering the local economy, Lique Naitove said.

"[Crawford] mentioned we were not going to be able to use the same footprint as previous years," she continued. "Therefore, my creative brain began spinning, and with the input of the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Morro Bay, we decided we wanted to do a three-day festival this year vs. a one-day festival, and that we were going to create two locations"—Tidelands Park and Morro Rock.

The event, slated for Sept. 9 to 11, will also trim crowd size from 10,000 to 3,500, avoid traffic closures along the waterfront, and add unique experiences.

Established in 2006, the original festival lined Morro's Bay's Embarcadero on the second Saturday of every September through 2019, then went dark for two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

PASSIONATE PLANNER Hannah Lique Naitove's Project XO is a date-night planning and concierge service catering to couples, small groups, and corporations throughout the Central Coast and beyond. She helped plan the revamped Avocado Margarita festival. - COURTESY PHOTO BY JILL HEWSTON PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Photo By Jill Hewston Photography
  • PASSIONATE PLANNER Hannah Lique Naitove's Project XO is a date-night planning and concierge service catering to couples, small groups, and corporations throughout the Central Coast and beyond. She helped plan the revamped Avocado Margarita festival.

"Essentially, we were forced to make the difficult decision to cancel [the] event and double down on efforts to keep our members and local businesses open and safe during the pandemic, informed of public health guidance," Crawford said. "And to work on supporting big-time economic development and diversification initiatives in the renewable energy sector."

As restrictions loosened, she continued, the chamber refocused on assisting area businesses and reenvisioned its flagship festival.

"We learned a lot over the 10-plus years producing the street festival," Crawford said, "and one thing that stuck in our minds for this year is that closing the Embarcadero street to traffic and fencing the festival perimeter to maintain compliance with ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) was a hardship for the businesses along the festival frontage.

"Also, the sheer size of the event had grown to a place where we were doubling the population of the city in one day," she said.

"By activating two different venues on either side of the waterfront, we are encouraging festival attendees to circulate through the city on foot, by using the Morro Bay Trolley or using bikes, or paddle vessels to approach via the bay," Crawford said.

At its core, she said the festival will transform a traditionally slow weekend in regard to tourism into a thriving marketplace,

Crawford is particularly excited to engage the services of Lique Naitove, who plans to wow attendees with a slew of elevated dining and entertainment options.

"We wanted to make sure that we were really highlighting our amazing local resources, including our avocados that are shipped all over the country, and our local harbor that is a hub for some of the finest fish," Lique Naitove said. "Therefore, we have asked some of the best chefs in the area, including chef Spencer [Johnston] with Danior Catering, Pair With Chef Rachel [Ponce], chef Kean [McCabe] from Earth and Oven, chef Justin Lewis, and chef Nicholas [Martinez] from The Flavor Fool, to name a few, to highlight their best avocado dishes."

FROM LAND AND SEA San Luis Obispo's Danior Catering will enter the festival fray, vying for the title of "Best of Festival" avocado-inspired dish, while also curating a multi-course, locally sourced welcome dinner in partnership with Daou Vineyards. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIOR CATERING
  • Photo Courtesy Of Danior Catering
  • FROM LAND AND SEA San Luis Obispo's Danior Catering will enter the festival fray, vying for the title of "Best of Festival" avocado-inspired dish, while also curating a multi-course, locally sourced welcome dinner in partnership with Daou Vineyards.

Mixologists from local spots such as Rod & Hammer's SLO Stills, Rasta Rita Margarita and Beverage Truck, Nuda Tequila, Yes Cocktail Co., and many more will be crafting fresh margaritas.

Chefs, mixologists, retail vendors, and live music will be featured all three days at Tidelands Park, while satellite Saturday-only events will take place atop a stage being built adjacent to Morro Rock.

"The morning [at Morro Rock] features a workout class with celebrity fitness entrepreneur Kelly Brabants, traveling all the way from Boston," Crawford said.

Brabants, founder of Booty by Brabants, will be accompanied by nationally known iHeartRadio hip-hop artist DJ Pup Dawg, who will continue performing throughout the afternoon.

"At night, we have booked SLO homegrown and wildly positive and successful nationally known band Próxima Parada to headline," Crawford said, with support from Australian soul singer EJ Worland.

GIVE IT A SHOT Yes Cocktail Co.—boasting more than 3,000 retail outlets worldwide and a Paso Robles tasting room—will feature craft cocktail mixers, such as cucumber jalapeño, syrups, bitters-infused sugar cubes, and fresh avocado margaritas at the festival. - PHOTO COURTESY OF YES COCKTAIL CO.
  • Photo Courtesy Of Yes Cocktail Co.
  • GIVE IT A SHOT Yes Cocktail Co.—boasting more than 3,000 retail outlets worldwide and a Paso Robles tasting room—will feature craft cocktail mixers, such as cucumber jalapeño, syrups, bitters-infused sugar cubes, and fresh avocado margaritas at the festival.

Additional highlights include VIP lounges—one dockside aboard the Chablis—with complimentary food at both locales, family movie night at Tidelands, and a welcome dinner at the Morro Bay Boatyard featuring Danior Catering and Daou Vineyards.

Danior Catering co-owners chef Jonhston and sommelier Lannon Rust will be creating an extravagant multi-course dinner with "world-class product from our local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen," Rust said. "Guests are in for a real treat."

Lique Naitove said she is appreciative of the opportunity to helm the revamped event "and bring something different to the table."

Her ultimate goals for the festival, Project XO, and herself are to generate business—for herself and others—and "to bring joy, love, and happiness into other people's lives." Δ

This señorita—Flavor Writer Cherish Whyte—needs a margarita. Reach her at [email protected].

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