CINCINNATI – Come hungry and ready to be entertained during this weekend’s Cincy Soul: Black Taste food festival.
“There is a lot that is new this year,” said Julian Rodgers, who organized the inaugural Cincy Soul as a single-day event last year. “First we are two days.”
Cincy Soul runs from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and noon-7 p.m. Sunday along Fifth Street between Walnut and Vine streets Downtown.
Rodgers said he initially launched Cincy Soul as an affordable way for local black business owners to showcase their restaurants, food trucks and catering services. The inaugural event attracted about 28 local vendors.
Cincy Soul received a special events liquor permit and signed up 36 vendors for its second year, Rodgers said.
“There’s folks returning from last year, like Mardi Gras on Madison and Just Jerk,” he said. “There’s a lot of new folks who saw it happen last year and wanted to be part of it now.”
Cincy Soul 'an awesome opportunity'
Small business owner Aundrea Sutton participated in Cincy Soul last year and will do so again this year. Sutton said she launched her custom bakery, Sugar, from her home a few months before last year's food festival.
“I thought [Cincy Soul] was an awesome opportunity as a small minority business to participate in something that showcases us,” she said. “I had lines, and I had to stop selling because we had to get the streets cleared off.”
Sutton said, thanks in part to the exposure and networking she experienced at Cincy Soul, she has since quit her job as principal of a charter school and is working out of a commercial bakery and her home while looking for a brick-and-mortar location.
“I think it’s critical there are events new businesses like mine can afford to participate in -- otherwise that opportunity wouldn’t be there,” Sutton said. “I wouldn’t have otherwise known that some of those other businesses even existed if I hadn’t participated last year.”
Non-food vendors such as the nonprofit Sole Bros. Inc. also will have booths at the festival this year.
"They are kind of like my little brothers,” Rodgers said. “They raise money to buy gym shoes for kids in Third World countries. Hopefully they will receive donations and exposure. We are trying to help everybody.”
Rodgers also recruited neo-soul singer Dwele and hip-hop legend Special Ed to perform Saturday on the nearby Fountain Square stage. R&B singer El DeBarge will help close out the festival on Sunday.
Music festival boosts exposure
Like last year’s inaugural event, the food festival coincides with the annual Cincinnati Music Festival, one of the largest and oldest music festivals in the country. Cincinnati Music Festival runs Thursday through Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, featuring Mary J. Blige and Usher as headliners.
Rodgers said that by scheduling Cincy Soul’s start on the last day of the music festival, he is maximizing the exposure participating vendors receive.
“It’s one of those things that we want to get these restaurants and businesses out there in the public,” he said. “We want to make it where everyone knows about them. Instead of telling visitors how to get to Pleasant Ridge and other places, we bring the businesses down to Fifth Street. The restaurants get to be on the main stage. Fifth Street is on the main stage.”
Last year the Cincinnati Music Festival brought more than 55,000 people Downtown, according to the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. Organizer Joe Santangelo said he expects more than 70,000 people to attend this year’s music festival based on ticket sales.
Cincy Soul is also part of Vibe Cincinnati, a diversity-focused initiative the visitors bureau launched last year to highlight the region through its multicultural offerings.
“Vibe and Cincy Soul were born in the same meeting,” Rodgers said. “We ultimately are trying to do the same thing. It’s a great collaboration.
“There are a lot of people coming to Cincinnati just for the excitement in the city because the Cincinnati Music Festival is almost sold out,” Rodgers added. “People are coming. Those are the people we want to serve. The people who just want to be part of the excitement.”
Vibe Cincinnati builds presence
Jason Dunn, Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau's vice president of multicultural and community development, said the bureau is growing Vibe Cincinnati’s presence during this year's Cincinnati Music Festival with Vibe Week.
On Wednesday, the bureau hosted a multicultural forum with local politicians, business executives and representatives from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau to discuss plans on increasing tourism to the Queen City.
“The goal of that is to really discuss where we are compared to others nationally,” Dunn said.
Vibe Cincinnati also will share the stories of four black business owners and artists during the Cincinnati Music Festival-related Urban Market, which runs Thursday through Saturday on Fountain Square. Local DJ Vader Mixx also will perform alongside Dwele and Special Ed on stage Saturday.
“We want to make it bigger and bigger,” Dunn said of both Vibe Week and Cincy Soul.