Meet Cleveland Spears: The Founder Of New Orleans’ National Fried Chicken Fest
By DeAnna Taylor
At the age of 25, New Orleans native Cleveland Spears set out to create his own marketing and public relations firm. After spending a few years in corporate America, he wanted to be able to pour into his community after hurricane Katrina by offering events and products that would drive economic impact to the city.
In 2008, he started The Spears Group which has been responsible for producing some of the nation’s most popular events. Things like Dinner en Blanc and Fete de Rose were both things that Cleveland and his team helped to bring to cities across the United States. They were also recently listed as one of the fastest-growing companies by Inc.
“After working for other marketing and PR firms after college, I made the decision to use my expertise to create my own products and experiences,” Cleveland Spears told Travel Noire.
In 2016, Spears was asked to be apart of a special project put on by the mayor, to help brainstorm ideas that could help the city heal racially.
“After going through this 3-day project, on the last day, my friend Jade Brown-Russell turns to me and says, “someone should just create a fried chicken festival. Black people and white people love fried chicken.” I thought it was brilliant.”
Soon after, Spears ran the idea by his staff and they all loved it. Next, he pulled together an advisory board full of heavy hitters throughout the city, and they too unanimously agreed that it was a great idea.
Thus, in 2016 Spears and his team, along with his friend Jade took on the task of creating the National Fried Chicken Festival.
It’s no surprise that the first fest was a hit seeing that New Orleans is a bit culinary city. Now in its 4th year, the festival spans 3-days and is expected to draw over 200,000 people to Woldenberg Park September 20-23.
“August and September is usually a slow period for the restaurant industry in NOLA. So, restaurants use this festival as a way to push them through to the end of the year. We only partner with independently owned restaurants, so that we are truly helping small businesses,” Spears said.
To-date, the National Fried Chicken Fest is one of the largest food festivals in the country based on attendance. It has set itself apart as being a huge driver of economic impact in New Orleans during one of the slowest times of the year.
“We’re also partnering with more nonprofits to set up at the fest. We want to drive as much impact while bringing people together.”
If you head out to the festival, get ready for over 35 food vendors serving up the nation’s best fried chicken in unique ways, live musicians who have included Big Freedia and Mannie Fresh in past years, interactive installations, and more. There will also be options for upgraded experiences that will include private lounges and champagne or alcohol pairings.
Did we mention the festival is free to enter?
To learn more about the National Fried Chicken Fest, head to their website: www.friendchickenfestival.com.
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.