How The Night Market Got So Cool

The scene at the Chinatown Night Market

Have you ever wondered how the Night Market immediately became the coolest thing since trucker hats when The Food Trust announced its first one (on East Passyunk) way back in 2010–long before your mom and your gerbil started retweeting the movements of every food truck in Philly?

Well, we have. So in light of tonight’s 1st market of the year (on 2nd Street, north of Fairmount), we called up The Food Trust people to ask them. They credit an accidental “brilliant stroke of marketing genius” they call their “whisper campaign.”

“The truth is,” remembers April White, The Food Trust’s communications manager, “we started advertising for the first Night Market just about the same time we started planning the event. We didn’t have a lot of time or money to get the word out about the event and we didn’t have much of an idea what the event would be, either.”

So April and her team slapped up a one-page website that contained scarcely more than an email sign-up form and a promise to electronically mail information as it became available. The mystery coincided with the nascency of the food truck craze, and everyone from neighborhood hipsters to casual foodies to restaurant bloggers (including us) to the New York Times got interested.

Organizers hoped they might get 1000-2000 people to that first event. Four thousand showed up. Most of the 17 vendors ran out of food and the Market was the second highest trending topic on Twitter, behind the Flyers, who were opening their season against Pittsburgh that night.

There’ve been three Markets since then (the last one, in Chinatown, drew twenty thousand attendees), and there are two more planned for July and August in the Italian Market and Mt. Airy. They’ve been covered by the Food Network, Details, Budget Traveler and all manner of Philadelphia media. And they’ve never strayed from their whisper campaign.

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