It’s just after 5:30 p.m. at Coffee Emporium and Sally Yoon is rushing to the table, packaged coffee grounds in hand. “Look!” she exclaims to her business partner, Nadia Laabs, pointing at the bag and beaming. “Night Owl Blend!”
Sure enough, a wide-eyed bird decorates the label — they seem to be everywhere lately. And whether or not Laabs and Yoon took that into consideration before creating Cincinnati’s Night Owl Market (NOM), the adorably feathered logo is tough to forget.
NOM was born on a weekend night like any other for young professionals Laabs and Yoon. It was late, and the two innovative, determined, fun-loving women were hungry. “We wanted to eat something other than pizza on the go,” Laabs says. “And there’s not too many options. So instead of just wishing, we thought we might as well actually make the most of it and do it ourselves.”
The craving for something more on the menu has sparked plans that evolved into a late-night market that offers everything from food vendors to live music and local artisans for pedestrians in Over-the-Rhine from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. each Final Friday. The event debuted just last month on July 27, and Laabs and Yoon were still reeling from the successful turnout days after it launched.
“I think it was just so much preparation since March envisioning this happening, and then it actually happening was almost a blur and it flew by,” Laabs says. “And the next day we were like, ‘Oh, it’s done. Now four more!’ ”
July’s installment saw an impressive early crowd swarming to listen to featured musicians J Flux and The Pinstripes and grab a bite to eat at the outdoor location at Main Street and Central Parkway. The list of vendors caters to virtually every possible late-night craving, including Café de Wheels, C’est Cheese, Cincy Bag Ladies, Eat Mobile Dining, Fireside Pizza, Pho Lang Thang, Sugar Snap, Taco Azul, Vinnie’s Gourmet Pretzels and Mary Jane Brownie Company. Disco Toes shoes, Kelly accessories, VitaminWater and Stark Image Works professional photography are also participating vendors.
Neither Laabs nor Yoon are Cincinnati natives — Yoon is from Decatur, Ill., and Laabs attended college in Austin, Texas.
They were drawn together as new employees at Procter & Gamble — both have lived in Cincinnati for nearly four years, and both currently reside downtown, which explains why their primary focus is on their own neighborhood’s night life.
“I definitely feel like Cincinnati’s home,” Yoon says. “I think it’s partially driving why this market is coming together. It’s like, ‘What can we do to make it even better?’ ”
NOM is a unique event in that it serves multiple purposes for late-night visitors — it’s a great place for bar hoppers to stop for some munchies and music, or to keep up the pace after the bars close. But it’s also a fun, booze-free alternative for other nightlifers. While NOM currently targets the Friday night OTR crowd, its ambitious founders hope word will spread to as far as surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the location’s stigma has been a slight drawback.
“We had a vendor who was interested at first, and then she found out the location and didn’t want to be at the market anymore, so she didn’t apply,” Laabs says. “And we were like, ‘You should come check it out — see for yourself!’ ”
The monthly affair is tailored to young professionals, Yoon says, but anyone looking for a good time, great food and live music is welcome. “And it’s still so new,” she says. “We haven’t really realized the full potential yet.”
Enthusiastic attendees have already been asking the pair to start Night Owl Markets in other neighborhoods like Northside, and NOM is certainly not opposed to the idea of spreading its wings, so to speak.
“We’ve even thought as far as maybe we could make this something that we could spread to other cities around here like Indianapolis, Columbus — if they’re needing something like this, too,” Laabs says. “Maybe even having multiple ones downtown or during lunch time — well, I guess we’d have to change the name. Day owl?” She and Yoon laugh. They also envision NOM eventually occurring every weekend, not just once a month.
Such expansion calls for considerable funds, however — something Laabs and Yoon are doing their best to raise with all the resources they can muster. The pair has already received a grant from Fuel Cincinnati, a local organization that helps provide resources for emerging leaders with new ideas for Cincinnati. The NOM founders dedicated the month of August to finding even more resources for funds to keep the dream alive.
“We’re looking for more sponsorship, you know, grant opportunities,” Yoon says. “How we can get our name out there at the same time and involve other businesses, too?”
Future night owls (NOM-ers?) can expect to see more variety in upcoming non-food vendor lineups, Laabs and Yoon assure. While the women’s passion for food will remain front and center at the market, they’re eager to support local artists of all kinds.
“Maybe more interactive [artists] like a henna artist or a caricaturist or fortune-teller,” Laabs imagines aloud. “Something that will keep the crowd more engaged and things like that, definitely highlighting the arts that are in Cincinnati.” She’s been in touch with Margy Waller, director of Art on the Streets Cincinnati, in order to discuss options for reaching out to and working with artists in the community to make NOM an even better experience.
Laabs acknowledges the risk artists take to spend time and effort setting up at the late-night event. She and Yoon have considered reduced hours for local art vendors — perhaps they would sell for only the first half of the event, for instance — but they want to ensure that vendors are getting the best deal they can for their participation.Laabs and Yoon are always on the lookout for new vendors and suggestions, so NOM-goers are welcome to speak up on the Facebook page or by emailing email@example.com. The second monthly NOM festivities will occur at the same time, same place Aug. 31, and it’s set to make appearances at each Final Friday through November.
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