CINCINNATI — Something new will be served Downtown during this year’s Cincinnati Music Festival weekend, which runs July 21-23.
The inaugural Cincy Soul: The Black Taste of Cincinnati will showcase 34 small, minority-owned eateries along Downtown's Fifth Street on July 23, said event organizer Julian Rodgers.
“I felt like the city needed something to highlight those type of restaurants,” Rodgers said.
The event, which is modeled after the Taste of Cincinnati, will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fifth between between Vine and Walnut streets.
Rodgers, who owns Cameo nightclub and the OTR Live music venue, said he created Cincy Soul after his experience as a vendor at the Taste of Cincinnati.
Taste, a three-day festival held annually on Fifth Street during Memorial Day weekend, drew an estimated 550,000 people this year, according to the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
“Taste of Cincinnati is great for larger restaurants, but cost and crowd size can be prohibitive for smaller businesses,” Rodgers said. “It could be a substantial sting of $10,000 to $13,000 just to prepare for the event, and you're not guaranteed to make back the money.”
Rodgers pitched the idea for Cincy Soul to the African American Chamber of Commerce, which in turn agreed to sponsor the event. The Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau also helped to develop the event as part of its new Vibe Cincinnati initiative.
"The Vibe Cincinnati platform was created to celebrate diversity in our region," said Jason Dunn, vice president of multicultural and community development for the Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Cincy Soul fits in that day with all of the other activities going on in the city."
Rodgers said he considered having Cincy Soul in August, but he decided to have it coincide with the Cincinnati Music Festival after learning about new features its organizers are adding this year in partnership with Vibe Cincinnati.
This year, the music festival, one of the largest contemporary R&B and soul music events in the country, is adding a fashion show and a third day, Throwback Thursday, which will feature rapper Doug E. Fresh and hip-hop legend Talib Kweli. The festival, now in its 54th year, traditionally has been a two-day affair that draws about 50,000 people to performances at Paul Brown Stadium. Organizers said about 80 percent of festival attendees come from out of town.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Andre Hopwood, whose restaurant, Conscious Kitchen, will have a booth at Cincy Soul. “With Taste’s potential as something new, it is a great opportunity to gain exposure and you can grow with it in years to come.”
Cincy Soul will be one of Hopwood’s first festival events as a restaurant owner. He opened Conscious Kitchen, located at 2516 Clifton Ave., about two years ago with a promise to deliver healthy, high-quality foods and a place for community.
Hopwood said besides seeing Cincy Soul as a manageable venue to gain exposure, it also offers an opportunity to celebrate and educate people about black cuisine as well.
“Cincinnati is diverse,” he said. “We have venues that show that diversity and other venues that highlight individual culture. There is one for Italian, Asian and German, but not one for black food. What happens when you put on one of these festivals is you can illuminate a lot of misinformation and stereotypes. Now people can see something new and different.”
Conscious Kitchen is finalizing its Cincy Soul menu, but Hopwood said visitors can expect to see their carrot pie and Cuban sandwich there. The Cuban is made with grilled, marinated salmon instead of pork, and the pie is a twist on sweet potato pie.
Alabama Que also will be at Black Taste serving its popular turkey tips, along with other dishes and sides. Owner Dwan Ward has been in business for nearly eight years. He said between his brick-and-mortar store at 2733 Vine St. in Corryville and his food truck, Alabama Que serves about one ton of turkey tips a week.
Alabama Que does not need the exposure from events like Taste of Cincinnati, Ward said. But as a friend of Rodgers and supporter of other small businesses, Ward said he agreed to participate and help promote Cincy Soul.
"I think it is wonderful thing for the small businesses, the mom-and-pop shops," he said.
Rodgers said people can expect to see a wide array of seafood, barbecue, desserts and non-alcoholic beverages at Cincy Soul. He is still accepting vendor applications at www.blacktasteofcincinnati.com.
“We have almost 112 vendors showing interest and had nearly a thousand likes on Facebook shortly after (a call for vendors) posted,” he said. “I’m excited about the excitement behind these things. This let me know we had an idea and concept that people wanted to see.”
Lando’s Old School Happy Hour, a free concert on Fountain Square, will take place the same time as Cincy Soul.
“That will be our soundtrack for the Taste,” Rodgers said.
As Cincy Soul ends, Festival513, an outdoor street fair featuring hundreds of vendors on Freedom Way in front of Paul Brown Stadium, will begin.
“I feel like we are activating the entire city for this event,” Rodgers said of adding Cincy Soul to the slate of activities during Cincinnati Music Festival weekend. “Why not let visitors know everything that is going on in the city? To be down there for that particular weekend, which has the hotels booked, we felt like we were creating a lot of activities for those visitors.”