The inaugural Thrive NC in 2018 opened stakeholders’ eyes and festival-goers’ palates to a cultural tool used to bring people together and create change: food. Thrive, presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, aimed to support eight of the area’s nonprofits in hopes of reducing food insecurity and addressing childhood nutrition.

In addition to the community Summit hosted as an awareness event to bring community leaders together and open the discussion on food’s impact, Thrive was also a two-day festival in downtown Raleigh to celebrate the food and community right here where we all live and work.

What Stood Out?

As Thrive’s festival was sold out both nights, there were plenty of people experiencing all the festival had to offer for the first time:

    • The location: Although the festival’s first year, the choice to essentially wrap the festival vendors around City Market in downtown Raleigh proved an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive choice. With vendors lining the four sides of the square and Market Hall located in the center of the action, the over 50 restaurants were showcased well.
    • The restaurants: Thrive presented a unique opportunity to sample dozens of restaurants, both old and new, in one central location. With some established favorites like Beasley’s Chicken and Honey bringing the HEAT with the Carolina Reaper hot chicken sliders to Kaiju which is so new it hasn’t even opened its doors yet, it was near impossible to leave the festival without a wide range of flavors and styles. There were a few places that I tried for the first time at Thrive, and I am happy to say that I did and definitely will be back for more!
    • The bands: If the food kept you around, the music probably drew you in. There is nothing like hearing live tunes while you enjoy a beautiful historic area, nibbling on some of the area’s best! I know Kasey Tyndall was one performer that set the stage on fire on the festival’s first night, and it added another exceptional element to the night.

New Favorites

While some favorites like Sassool and Whiskey Kitchen cease to disappoint, whether in the restaurant or at a festival, some restaurants I hadn’t tried previously caught my attention:

    • 18 Seaboard: A new bar snack on the restaurant’s menu – the oyster with pimento cheese, prosciutto, faro piccolo and crystal cane syrup – made its way to Thrive’s first festival day, and it was memorable to say the least. It was clear from a quick chat with Owner/Chef Jason Smith and Chef de Cuisine Jake Wood that they were passionate about their craft.
    • Counting House: Another Thrive sensation took the form of not only the first night’s braised short rib with truffle pea puree but also the second night’s roasted pork belly with pepper jelly and peanuts. I cannot say enough good things about the unique flavor combinations that made my taste buds do a happy dance through City Market.
    • Oro Restaurant & Lounge: When truffle mac and cheese is on the menu, nary a complaint is had. I am pretty picky when it comes to mac and cheese, a dish that my mom has spoiled my standards with, but this truffle mac was perfectly creamy without being too overpowering from the truffle. It was no surprise that they quickly ran out of samples at the festival!
    • The Smashed Waffle Company: A newer restaurant on the block, the product is in the name: killer waffles! While the Quilted Pig may call to the sweet and savory lover by adding a little bacon, my favorite offering at the festival was the Chip Chip Hooray with a generous topping of chocolate chips, chocolate drizzle, and caramel.
    • Tonbo Ramen: Another restaurant that has its specialty in the name, the ramen sampling served at the festival was a simple, but delicious depiction of this newer downtown Raleigh restaurant. The pork belly was very tender, but the tonkotsu ramen broth stole the show.
    • Kaiju: Last, but certainly not least, this festival vendor is so new it hasn’t opened its doors yet! The original festival menu touted bao buns as the sample, but the continuously long line made it so they had to supplement with another sampling. I was not at all disappointed to receive the pork belly and kale ramen both festival days, as it was the complete flavor and textural profile you could hope for in a ramen dish.

Missed the first Thrive NC festival and/or want to be in-the-know for next year’s event? Follow Thrive on social media and sign up for the email list at and we will see you there in 2019!

So what were your favorite moments from the Thrive NC festival? Please be sure to hit us up on Twitter @919BlogNC or visit our Facebook page at and let us know! We would love to hear from ya.

This post was created in collaboration with the Downtown Raleigh Blog editorial team and 919 Blog contributor Melissa Kahan for exclusive digital publication via TBN