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With hon-troversy over, will Honfest flourish?

Organizers expect 50,000 over the course of the weekend, on par with previous years

By Jaclyn Peiser, The Baltimore Sun

8:35 AM PDT, June 6, 2012

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It's been seven months since Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting publicly dropped her controversial trademark of the word "hon." Chef Gordon Ramsay and the rest of the "Kitchen Nightmares" crew were even in town last week for a follow-up to the original Cafe Hon "Kitchen Nightmares" episode.

So, with Honfest set for this weekend, is Hampden and the rest of hon-loving Baltimore ready to put the hon-troversy to rest? Whiting thinks so.

"We have heard from an overwhelming number of our neighbors since the 'Kitchen Nightmares' experience ... generally, most everyone who objected to the initial trade-marking have embraced our efforts to put the issue behind us," Whiting said in an e-mail.

Though Whiting has made strides to start fresh, there still remains a lingering sense of resentment with some Hampden residents.

"I think many people were angry, particularly the longer term residents of Hampden who are actual 'hons.' It seems like a breach of community goodwill that might take a while to forgive," 33-year-old Hampden resident Michele Romolini said.

Others, such as lifelong Hampden resident Greg Shaeffer, are able to separate Honfest from the hon-troversy.

"I think Honfest is good for the community," Shaeffer, 24, wrote in an e-mail. "It is an event that draws people to the area. It provides an opportunity for businesses to gain exposure to clientele."

The hon-troversy hasn't had much of an impact on Honfest's draw, according to festival director Lisa Davis. She expects 50,000 attendees over the course of this weekend — about what it's been the past few years, she said.

"People come from all over to celebrate having fun ... [They] put on beehives and sunglass; anything that allows them to celebrate themselves," Davis wrote in an e-mail. "That's what it's really about. Coming out for a friendly event. Eat funnel cake, crab cakes, it's really truly about that and celebrating Baltimore and Hampden."

Festival highlights such as the Baltimore's Best Hon competition, where patrons don cat's eye glasses and tease their hair up into beehives, will be back this weekend, Davis said.

"The festival is truly around the celebration of Baltimore's Best Hon," Davis said. "People come out to see that. Some people might think it's getting old after a few years but people love to come out and dress up and transpose into a different character and I think that the gem of it."

In addition to crowning the 'Best Hon', visitors have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the neighborhood. The weekend will feature local musicians, artists, shopping, and food.

"We always have some great music and some local bands," Davis said. "We have the great stuff on the main stage which is consistent with the Baltimore's Best Hon. There are a lot of local based [vendors] coming out that weekend."

Whiting is optimistic about this weekend. The weather is looking good, and she feels as though the controversy is finally behind her.

"For the 19th time, we'll be having a family-friendly celebration of what's great about Baltimore," Whiting said.

Honfest is this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Hampden. The free festival will cover four blocks on 36th Street. For more information, go to honfest.net

A brief history of Hontroversy

1992: Denise Whiting opens Cafe Hon in Hampden

1994: Cafe Hon hosts its first Honfest with Baltimore's Best Hon Pageant. Over the next few years it grew and is now a two-day festival covering four blocks in Hampden.

December 2010: News gets out that Cafe Hon owner, Denise Whiting has trademarked the word 'Hon' many years prior and reserves the right to permit or deny the use of the word outside the realm of her restaurant, bar, and gift shop.

December 18, 2010: 50 people protest outside Cafe Hon. The news of the trademark continues backlash against Whiting and attendance at the restaurant decreases by 20 to 25 percent, Whiting said.

June 28, 2011: Whiting has to get a restraining order against a protester harassing her over trademark controversy.

November 7, 2011: "Kitchen Nightmares" host Gordon Ramsay goes to Cafe Hon for a restaurant intervention. Whiting holds a press conference, with the help of Ramsay and his show, and announces that she is relinquishing her trademark.

February 24, 2012: Cafe Hon's episode on "Kitchen Nightmares" premieres on Fox.

May 31, 2012: Gordon Ramsay returns to Cafe Hon for a follow-up.

June 9-10, 2012: The 19th Annual Honfest — the first festival since Whiting relinquished her trademark.