The Turkey Leg Hut Fest gives new businesses the exposure they need

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Yo’Rel Brown is glad he lost count of the business cards and handshakes he handed out on Sunday. He estimated that more than 1,000 people stopped by his booth at the second annual Turkey Leg Hut Fest.

The 29-year-old was one of at least 80 business owners who packed a section of Almeda during the event, which was expected to draw more than 10,000 people to the third precinct.

It was just what Brown needed for clothing store YMBCompany, which he opened after quitting his job at a Fortune 500 company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and moving to Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, much of his networking and advertising has taken place online, constrained by safety precautions and stay-at-home orders.

Sunday changed that, he said.

“It puts my brand right in everyone’s face,” Brown said. “On a normal day, I wouldn’t be able to do all of that. I wouldn’t have such an opportunity.”

That was the intention of the festival, said Nakia Price, who owns Turkey Leg Hut with her husband and organized the event after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus.

The Turkey Leg Hut has grown in popularity since it opened in 2016, drawing customers that often stretch more than a block on weekends. And as business booms, the spot has become a magnet for tourists and celebrities, including rapper 50 Cent, former Houston Rocket James Harden and, on Sunday, two-time NBA champion Lamar Odom.

“We have a platform,” Price said. “People know who we are, they know our brand and that we can help showcase other companies and give them some of the exposure we have.”

The festival was also scheduled to feature performances by Houston rappers Lil Keke and Slim Thug, but their performances were canceled last week due to circumstances which Turkey Leg Hut said were “unfortunately beyond our control”.

Price said they wanted the event to be an opportunity for small businesses to “get their products to market,” especially in the wake of the pandemic, which has hit black-owned businesses particularly hard.

“It gives them a family-friendly environment to sell in,” she said.

A block away, 39-year-old Steve Stephens bounced between his house across from the Turkey Leg Hut and the 3D camera he had set up to capture the interest of festival-goers.

In August 2020, he opened a new business, Houston Partyhouse, renting out space for parties and events in the Third Ward.

It was one of nearly 4.4 million new businesses launched across the country that year, a 24 percent increase that the National Bureau of Economic Research found was particularly pronounced in black communities.

The Third Ward, where half the residents are black, was no exception: They are up more than a quarter this year. Other predominantly black parts of Houston saw similar gains, including the East Little York/Homestead and South Park areas, where new business filings tripled in 2020.

Experts have noted that the rise in black-owned businesses coincides with the rollout of COVID-19 stimulus checks, and that protests over the killing of George Floyd and other black Americans have brought much-needed support to minority-owned small businesses .

Stephens said it has been difficult promoting his business during the pandemic, which has seen many Americans avoid gatherings.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said with a sigh.

Like Brown, the young clothing mogul hopeful, he said the festival gave him an unprecedented opportunity to promote his brand.

Price agreed, saying she hopes the event will continue to grow in the years to come.

“If we could actually do this more often, we would,” she said.

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