Chef and restaurateur Jean-François Flechet is beloved in Greater Cincinnati for his playful demeanor, commitment to the community and the delicious waffles he serves up at the multiple incarnations of his eatery, Taste Belgium.
But that love will briefly turn into sportive competition Tuesday afternoon when the United States battles favored Belgium in a Round of 16 World Cup match.
“It’s too bad both teams can’t advance and only one of them can go through. Of course, though, I hope it’s going to be Belgium,” said Flechet before letting out an understated chuckle. “I’m sure the U.S. will play well and it will be a great match.”
Francois is a lynchpin in the urban Cincinnati food and social scenes, and has been since 2007 when he opened his first Taste of Belgium at historic Findlay Market in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
But on Tuesday, he’s digging up his ancestral roots and cheering for the national side he fell in love with as a boy.
“Even with some of the injuries we suffered, this is strongest team we’ve had since Mexico in 1986,” he said. “This team is comparable in terms of its strength and skill. It is a good team.”
While the American side is happy to have forward Jozy Altidore back in the fold, the Belgian team features a dynamic array of talent including the likes forwards Romy Lukaku and the always explosive Eden Hazard.
Belgium team captain and defender Vincent Kompany is hurt but is "50/50" for Tuesday's game.
Flechet, who grew up in small village along the Dutch-German border, will sport the black, red and white jersey of his home country at his Clifton location.
“We’re going to have a watch party at the Clifton location and we’re expecting our biggest crowd yet,” said Francois, adding that he expects a modest couple hundred at the spacious spot on Vine Street for the 4 p.m. contest. Coverage starts at 3 p.m. on ESPN and in the Watch ESPN app.
The Clifton restaurant has hosted parties for each of the three U.S. men’s national team games so far during the World Cup, drawing between 80 and 150 guests specifically for the games. Because of the match schedules, they even opened on its off-days (Sunday and Monday) to accommodate local soccer fans.
While places like Molly Malone's in Covington and OTR-based Rhinehaus feature more traditional soccer-centric crowds, Flechet said it's nice to see soccer fans make their way to Clifton for good beer, delicious food (try the waffle 'n' chicken) and great soccer.
"I think it's great to see people in the States get behind a great sport. I think they've been missing out on it and now they're catching on to why the rest of the world love the game," Flechet said, adding that local philanthropist and rocker Mike Moroski will play live music after the game to make it more of an all-encompassing event.
In the spirit of Tuesday’s game, the bar and eatery is hosting raffles for Team USA and Team Belgium jerseys.
“If you order a Duvel you get a ticket for a raffle to win an official Belgian jersey. If you order a Budweiser or Bud Light, you enter to win an official American jersey,” Flechet said.
“Technically, all the raffles should go toward a Belgian jersey as Bud is owned by (Belgium-based) InBev,” he joked.
Flechet has also partnered with the soccer club the Cincinnati Saints and the people associated with the watch party at Fountain Square, which has drawn upward of 3,000 impassioned (and somewhat imbibed) fans in the past.
The Taste of Belgium crew will give away small versions of his famous waffles that will come in patriotic red, white and blue.
“At the end of the day, it’s about having fun and supporting your team and your country,” he said. “It’s good to see both teams make it this far and hopefully the losing side can support the winner all the way to the championship.”