HOT spices up downtown Waco with new chili festival

chili fest

By Allie Matherne

Downtown Waco will soon showcase a new festival — the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo’s Chili Fest.

The festival will be held Saturday afternoon on Austin Avenue.

The event coordinators hope to attract a variety of people, said marketing and PR director Charva Ingram. There will be an assortment of vendors, activities and competitions taking place at the festival on Saturday to accommodate a broad audience.

The event will include live entertainment, local vendors and a chili cook-off and sampling. Proceeds will benefit the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo Scholarship Fund. In the past, events like this have raised over $250,000 in scholarship money, Ingram said.

“We wanted to get out and connect with the community and get in front of new people,” Ingram said. “We wanted to have a new venue to tell our story.”

Mike Lewis, a community volunteer, said he saw a festival similar to the Hot Chili Fest thrive in Galveston and wanted to bring it to Waco. The driving motivation behind the festival is to raise money for the scholarship fund, which gives money to Central Texas students, Lewis said.

“A lot of folks are missing out on higher education,” Lewis said.

The event revolves around introducing members of the community to local businesses. Events like a poker run and vendor walk will intentionally put attendees in front of vendors and business owners, Ingram said. The Poker run will involve participants picking up cards in sealed envelopes from 10 different vendors. The player with the best poker hand by the end of the event will win a $200 cash prize.

“It’s important for us to work as a community,” Lewis said. “There are so many resources downtown that have improved considerably in the last few years.”

Connecting the Waco and Baylor communities is integral to this project, Lewis said.

“We’re really invested in Waco growing,” Lewis said.

Smith Getterman, a member of the public improvement district, said events like this bring new people into the downtown area and serve as a catalyst for connecting Baylor and Waco.

Downtown Waco is clearly expanding, and events like the Heart O’ Texas Chili Fest draw more attention to the developments downtown, Getterman said.

“Downtown serves as the focal point of the city,” said Smith Getterman, the Assistant Director of Sustainability at Baylor. “It’s where a lot of life and kinetic energy are going to start. If you have a healthy downtown, you’re going to have a healthy city.”