Capital Buzz: Taste of DC picks Groupon

The Washington foodie market is shaping up as a battleground in the online space as coupon giant Groupon agrees to be the main sponsor behind this October’s Taste of DC food festival.

The Chicago deal purveyor snagged the sponsorship in the back yard of rival LivingSocial and Venga, the D.C. online restaurant site that launched last month.

The move was orchestrated by District entrepreneur and former “The Apprentice” contestant Steuart Martens, who is chief executive of the Taste of DC, and his partner in the event, Heidi Diamond, a Washington native and media marketing executive who once was president of Martha Stewart’s television arm.

“Showcasing strong brands, like Groupon . . . is what Taste of DC offers sponsors,” Diamond said.

Diamond tells us she has signed a deal for wine site Bottlenotes to sponsor the Taste of DC wine pavilion. The festival has also lined up DC Modern Luxury magazine to become the food festival’s media partner and produce a pavilion on the site.

Taste of DC, which started in the early 1990s to promote the local food and beverage business, is a three-day event scheduled for this Columbus Day Weekend along a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and Third streets NW.

Drilling for Profits

EIG Global Energy Partners, a D.C.-based private investment firm focused on the energy sector, has closed its $4.1 billion Energy Fund XV, the largest in the firm’s history.

EIG had hoped to raise $2.5 billion, but it blew through that and now will be looking to make investments to help expand existing companies around the world.

The company already has put more than half a billion dollars to work, and it has a “robust pipeline” of potential projects in which to invest, according to a statement by chief executive Blair Thomas.

EIG has $9.6 billion in assets under management.

The private equity firm earlier this year opened its headquarters at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, moving from Los Angeles after its split with parent company TCW Energy. Founded in 1982, the firm focuses on late-stage, capital-intensive investments in the energy sector.

Small-business big shots

Danny Vargas of Herndon-based Varcom Solutions has apparently put the analytic skills he learned in Air Force intelligence to good use, founding a business strategy firm that was just named a minority small-business champion by the local district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Varcom helps clients develop strategy and marketing to compete for contracts.

Vargas said local dealmaking seems to be stirring again.

“Those companies that spent and kept active in marketing [during the downturn] are better positioned to leverage the recovery than the ones who stuck their heads in the sand,” said Vargas, 45, a native of Brooklyn.

Other SBA honorees include Freddie Winston of F&L Construction, who was named the area’s small-business person of the year; Judy Bradt of Summit Insight in Alexandria, who was dubbed the women in business champion; Eddie Tuvin of Capital Bank in Rockville, who was named financial services champion; and Barbara Ashe of the Montgomery County Chamber Community Foundation in Rockville, who was selected as a veterans’ champion.

The Mason Small Business Development Center at George Mason University as a group won the Small Business Development Center of Excellence and Innovation award.

Truckin’

The Buzz always pays attention to Washington restaurateur and social organizer B o Blair, who helped start Surfside, Jetties and Smith Point.

And Blair is on to something new.

He is launching a food truck festival called Truckeroo on June 4 in the parking lot on the corner of Half and M streets Southeast across from Nationals Park.

The first Truckeroo, which will include food trucks like Lobster Truck, Fojol Bros., Eat Wonky, Curbside Cupcakes and D.C. Slices, is scheduled to run from noon to 9 p.m., and occur monthly through October. The idea is to drive business to the ballpark area on non-baseball nights.

“The popularity of the food truck culture, along with their progressive use of social media, should provide the spark needed to get people to come down to the baseball stadium area when the Nationals are away,” said Blair, who owns The Bullpen and Das Bullpen, both outdoor beer gardens across from the baseball park.

The Bullpen is the biggest cash cow in the burgeoning Blair empire.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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