Denis Whiting

Denise Whiting, pictured in this 2010 photo, is preparing for this year's HonFest after a tumultuous year. (File photo by Jed Kirschbaum / June 5, 2012)

It's been a cathartic 12 months for Denise Whiting. She gave up her frowned-upon 'Hon' trademark, and apologized publicly for thinking that she could own a common term of endearment.

She cried on national television, as the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, of Fox-TV's 'Kitchen Nightmares,' ripped her restaurant, Café Hon, and her staff chided her as an overbearing boss.

She let Ramsay revamp the restaurant and its menu, softened her edges, laid low and rode out months of public rebuke.

And somehow, Whiting found time to plan HonFest, the regionally popular festival she founded in 1993. The 19th annual fest is June 9-10 on The Avenue in Hampden.


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After a year of taking her lumps in the public eye, Whiting says, "We're back to business as usual."

In an interview May 31, the native Baltimorean, 53, pleaded to the public to "just let me run the restaurant and let me be creative and let me be a part of Hampden and let me be a part of Baltimore."

All the traditional enticements can be found at this year's festival, including Best Hon, Honette and Lil Hon contests, a full lineup of local bands, and acts such as The Fabulettes and The Singing Lucies.

New this year are the Mashed Potato Dance Contest on Sunday and the Glyndon Area Players performing songs from John Waters' Baltimore-inspired musical, "Hairspray," on Saturday.

Sponsors include Miller Light, Bacardi with its open-air drink lounge, M&T Bank, radio station 98 Rock, WBAL-TV, CBS Radio, Chick-fil-A, Long & Foster and Anderson Automotive.

"I think it's going to be the best HonFest ever," Whiting said.

Looking back

Last year, Whiting, a Kernewood resident, was in bad graces with Hampden merchants after she issued a decree, later withdrawn, that prohibited them from selling merchandise that might infringe upon her trademark.

A year ago this week, at a contentious meeting of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, there were questions about HonFest's impact on merchants and whether the festival was good for the business community.

Last November, Whiting dropped her trademark, and acknowledged, "It was never mine to have in the first place."

In an episode taped last fall that aired in February, the Ramsay show shined a national spotlight on Whiting. Kitchen Nightmares characterized the controversy as a public relations nightmare for her.

Employees told Whiting to her face she was a micro-manager with a big ego.

Whiting told Ramsay that Café Hon's business was off as much as 50 percent and that she feared for her life because of hate directed at her.

She also told the kitchen staff to "86" numerous menu items, as Ramsay watched aghast.

"I don't like cooking this menu," head chef Greg Jones told Ramsay.

The show described Café Hon as being "at war with its community," and Ramsay gave the restaurant bad marks, calling the meatloaf "mushy," and the fish and chips "greasy."