CINCINNATI – Wil Hearn wasn't sure what to expect when he agreed to participate in last year's Cincy Soul food festival.
SEE A PHOTO GALLERY from Saturday at Cincy Soul.
"I was very nervous putting myself out there like that," said Hearn, who began operating local catering company No Pork on My Fork in 2013.
Cincy Soul organizer Julian Rodgers asked Hearn to set up a booth for the second year of the festival, which took place over two days in July along Downtown's Fifth Street, between Vine and Walnut streets.
"He told me, 'This is perfect for you,'" Hearn said.
Rodgers, co-owner of OTR Live and the Treehouse Patio Bar in Over-the-Rhine, organized the first Cincy Soul in 2016 as a one-day festival to raise the profile of local minority restaurant owners and food vendors.
Hearn said his business grew dramatically after he participated in last year's Cincy Soul. Before the event, No Pork on My Fork primarily sold individual dinners and catered small events.
"That opportunity and the event just catapulted me," Hearn said. "I've done so many events since Cincy Soul last year. The only time I really have to conversate anymore is early in the morning. I really don't have time to do dinners too often."
Hearn is returning for the third annual Cincy Soul, which begins after 6 p.m. Friday and continues until 10 p.m. Sunday on Fifth Street and Fountain Square.
Rodgers said this year's event has grown tremendously.
"The first year we had 28 vendors," he said. "Last year we had 36."
This weekend's food festival features more than 60 vendors. To make room for additional booths, Cincy Soul is taking over Fountain Square.
"There will be close to 62 and out of those 62, there are 43 food vendors and 19 retailers," Rodgers said.
Rodgers said he's already trying to figure out how to grow Cincy Soul next year. He and his fellow organizers even placed some small business owners wanting to participate in this weekend's festivities on a waiting list for next year.
This weekend's event overlaps with two days of the Cincinnati Music Festival, which draws thousands of out-of-town visitors each year to downtown Cincinnati. This year, Charlie Wilson and Jill Scott will headline the R&B music festival, which kicked off Thursday and continues through Saturday evening at Paul Brown Stadium.
Rodgers said people can again expect live music on Fountain Square and alcohol sales, features he added to last year's edition of Cincy Soul.
Rapper Big Daddy Kane will perform at the Fountain Square stage at 5 p.m. Saturday, followed by local artist Bilal at 6 p.m. Singer Estelle will perform 5 p.m. Sunday.
The food festival has extended its hours as well. Festival hours are 6 p.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday, and noon.-10 p.m. Sunday.
"We plan on being out there that late," Rodgers said. "I don't anticipate all the vendors trying to stay open, but those that do should do extremely well."
The festival will also feature a "Silent Party" starting at 8 p.m. to close Friday and Saturday. The party involves people renting neon-lit headphones from a booth that glow a certain color depending on which of three streaming music channels they listen to. Blue trimmed headphones will stream R&B and funk; red will stream reggae; green will play 1990s hip-hop trap music.
Hearn said because of the increased business Cincy Soul brought No Pork on My Fork, he is fully prepared for the extra day, longer hours and hopefully larger crowd this year.
"Last year was very last minute," Hearn said. "I really didn't have all the resources. I had to borrow some money from family and friends. Now based on the success I had last year, I am able to do everything on my own. It's huge for me. (Last year's Cincy Soul) was probably one of the most rewarding events for me."
"To see him on Sunday dancing in the streets ... I told him, 'I knew you were ready,'" Rodgers added. "The biggest thing with Cincy Soul is getting folks ready to serve that amount of people. And we want to make sure we can get everyone from all walks of life to come Downtown.
"We want everyone, whether they're going to the music festival or not, to come down and be a part of the festivities."