Treasure Fest starts season with 7th anniversary party

Treasure Fest (formerly Treasure Island Flea), starts its seventh season this weekend with free cake, happy hour specials and more.

The event happens on the last weekend of each month between May and November and features approximately four hundred vendors and thirty-five food trucks and stations, said co-founder Charlie Ansanelli via telephone.

Part food festival, part maker fair, Ansanelli launched the event in 2011 as he and his parents were recovering from the Great Recession. "That was really the genesis for that launch," he said. "A lot of businesses were closing and people were losing their jobs."

"I had three younger siblings that were still growing up and we had no real source of income at the time," he said. "We came together as a family to launch this project, and we worked on it for several years before we could get it off the ground."

Ansanelli, formerly CEO and co-founder of parking assistance app, Park Please, hails from Novato. His parents previously worked as manufacturing entrepreneurs until the economy tanked in 2011, he said.

At that time, "a lot of people were turning back to their passions -- their side hustles, if you will -- and turning them into businesses. This is why we launched Treasure Fest."

When the family first started working to get the festival up and running, they had trouble finding an appropriate venue. "Nobody really understood our vision," Ansanelli said. "What we are doing is not really a flea market, but that's what people thought of when we shared our idea."

Ansanelli and his family carefully screen each vendor through an application process. For the most part, participants are craft makers, product designers, artists, or purveyors of vintage or antique goods.

The same process applies to food vendors as well, he said. Eateries have to meet certain criteria like have a four-star rating or higher on Yelp, or be considered "up and coming" in their respective fields.

When the festival debuted, there were "only about sixty vendors and two food trucks," Ansanelli said. Today, "we are up to thirty-five food vendors, four-hundred businesses, three bar areas and we actually average about 20,000 attendees each weekend."

This weekend, the first 2,000 guests will receive a free tote bag, a slice from a four-foot wide celebratory cake, drink specials, and more. (You can find more info, along with a lineup of local musical acts performing this week here.)

"I have the best job in the world," said Ansanelli. "And the best part for our guests is that they aren't in a shopping mall. Stories are being exchanged, they're meeting the makers of products they are buying, and for our vendors, it has become this ecosystem that they now kind of depend on it. It's grass roots entrepreneurship."