Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Taste vendors say they're cookin'

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While several restaurant owners and managers said Tuesday they are worried about low turnout at this weekend's Taste of Cincinnati, few of the event's 38 participants are cutting back on their menus.

On the menu
What's cookin' at Taste this year.
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Getting around Download a pdf map of vendors & stages.

Taste of Cincinnati runs from noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday and noon to 9 p.m. Memorial Day.
        Despite the city's recent racial unrest and a boycott called for by a group of ministers last week, organizers said the city's 22nd annual feast will go on as planned.

        “All the restaurants will be there with their grills going,” said Raymond Buse, a spokesman for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsor of the event. It runs Saturday through Monday on Central Parkway from Elm to Main streets.

        On Friday the ministers group urged the public to boycott Taste, encouraging peaceful protests instead. The clergy said the city needs to focus on healing its racial problems, which escalated last month into riots following the shooting death in Over-the-Rhine of Timothy Thomas, 19, an unarmed black man.

        The group has reported having as many as 75 ministers backing its call for a boycott. However, representatives for the group have refused repeated requests to release the names of its membership.

        The group's unwillingness to identify clergy involved has brought criticism from City Hall and speculation from others that the group is exaggerating its numbers.

        “They can say whatever they want. We know who we have behind us and people will see that support hopefully at the festival,” said the Rev. Clarence Wallace, pastor of Carmel Presbyterian Church in Avondale. “We aren't going to get caught up in a numbers game.”

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church, said Tuesday he anticipates a large group of ministers and members of their congregations will support the boycott.

        “We have a system of economic apartheid effective in Cincinnati that becomes evident when you leave downtown and cross over Central Parkway,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “You essentially have two different cities with the same name. Our goal is to continue to show people how intertwined unrest in the urban core is with downtown development.”

        Restaurateurs, however, say the civil unrest should not disrupt downtown activities.

        “Why would we not go?” asked Daniele Crandall, owner of La Petite France restaurant in Evendale. “I think it's going to be more people than ever. What worries me the most is the weather.”

        Ms. Crandall was one of about 25 participating restaurant owners and managers contacted by the Enquirer Tuesday.

        Taste of Cincinnati usually draws about a half-million people over three days, bringing more than $25 million into the city's economy.

        This year, 38 restaurants — two fewer than last year — will serve 153 menu items, priced from $1 to $3.75.

        Some participants, however, said they are scaling back preparations for fear the boycott will hurt sales.

        “How much food do you prepare?” asked Jim Willman, vice president of operations for the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell.

        “... If no one shows up, it all goes to waste. We are going to cut back considerably as it looks.”

        Restaurants had to commit to the event in early March, a month before rioters took over some Cincinnati streets for three days.

        Since then, the only participant to withdraw is Remington's Roadhouse, with locations in Springdale and Newport, but not because of racial tensions.

        “It's a manpower issue within the management ranks,” said Art Tudor, Remington's operations director. “It's the best marketing opportunity independent restaurants have. To miss it, it's almost a sin.”

        Restaurants' participation is dependent on their work force, Mr. Buse said.

        “If they can't staff the event for three days plus staff their regular restaurants, it's not in their best interest to commit,” he said.

        Jay Scavo, owner of Pasta Al Dente in Hyde Park, is participating for the first time.

        “We're really concerned. We played with the idea of pulling out; but we thought, "No, that wouldn't show good support,'” he said. “But I don't know what to expect. We'll just take the hit on food if we have too much. I'm just looking to break even.”

        Mr. Buse acknowledged attendance may be down but that the community and city leadership have shown strong support.

        “This year may be the most important year ever,” Mr. Buse said. “Taste of Cincinnati is our personal introduction for people to come back downtown and realize it's a safe and wonderful place to be.”

       Enquirer reporters Kevin Aldridge, Walt Schaefer and Jenny Callison contributed to this report.

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