FARGO — David O'Toole and his wife drove down from Grand Forks to celebrate their anniversary at the Fargo Taco and Margarita Fest. From the moment they entered the venue, something seemed off.
"We end up going inside, and the very first thing I notice is how long the lines are," O'Toole said. "The event promised eight different food vendors, and all we saw were like two of them."
Screenshots of the Facebook event page show the Saturday, May 1, festival promised more than eight food trucks and multiple beverage stations. Instead, there was only one food truck and one margarita stand serving a crowd of several hundred.
When they showed up, O'Toole said, they had to pay for tickets with either cash or Venmo — not with a credit or debit card.
They spent nearly an hour in line for margaritas. They waited about another hour for tacos but were later turned away. Many visitors said the event ran out of food.
"On our way out of the event, we just found out that they were still selling VIP tickets," O'Toole said. "They looked like they were shutting them down at that point, but they were still selling them, so that means a lot of people were in much worse shape than we were."
O'Toole and several others took to social media to seek answers and refunds. Many are calling it the Fargo Fyre Festival, in reference to a failed event in The Bahamas in 2017.
The North Dakota Horse Park posted a statement to its Facebook page saying they had nothing to do with planning the event; they just leased the land. They posted the name of the man in charge, Adam Dobres, along with his phone number. It has a Tennessee area code.
Dobres works with Kick'n Dirt Entertainment based in El Paso, Texas.
Mike Schmitz of the Fargo Food Truck Festival also posted Adam's contact information, clarifying they, too, were not involved. He believes Dobres is not from the area and does not normally host events here.
"They weren't announcing the vendors; they only announced one vendor," Schmitz said. "People were asking them, 'Who's coming?' There's really no reason to not announce who's coming."
What happened was not the quality event the community deserves, he said.
Organizers should have pulled the plug and refunded tickets when they were not able to deliver on the promised amount of food trucks, he added. Schmitz is especially disappointed to see this happen after several months of events getting shuttered because of the pandemic.
"People were ready to get out and do something fun," he said.
Horse Park staff said some attendees were able to get refunds, but many others said they have not received a response from Dobres or Kick'N Dirt Entertainment.
Instead of a refund, O'Toole got an email from Dobres claiming he has no control of the money.
"We had a local partner in Fargo who sold the tickets and we're supposed to run event operations. That didn't go as 100% and we apologize to the full extent," Dobres wrote. "We have zero control over money and are out thousands paying for tables / chair rentals, flights, hotels, marketing and paying for the VIP tacos to the 2 vendors along with bands. Please contact your bank for a dispute for a full refund as we have ZERO access to the ticketing and haven't been paid out for the event yet for our %."
Another visitor, Jacque Brown, said she is also trying to get a refund. Like O'Toole, she waited in line for tacos for roughly an hour only to find out they ran out of food.
"I know one of my friends, she spent like $260 for VIP and had a really bad experience, as well," Brown said.
"We spent a lot of money, I spent 70-some dollars on all these tickets," Brown said, "so I'm a little upset I didn't get what I asked for, and it was nothing (like) what they said on their website."
"Somebody either didn't plan at all or didn't do a very good job at planning, because there was no signage or anything, or we're flat-out being scammed," O'Toole said.
Regular tickets were reportedly $10, VIP tickets were $35 and parking was $5.
Dobres did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.