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Sinners & Saints Tavern Won’t Leave You Hungry

One thing’s for sure: you won’t leave the Texas smokehouse/sports bar Sinners & Saints Tavern hungry. For starters, we loved the Heavenly Tators (emphasis on heavenly), jumbo sized housemade tots smothered in creamy queso. Looking for a lighter bite? Try the Texas Caviar, which swaps fish eggs for tangy black-eyed peas and lightly-pickled peppers—a refreshing start to a meat-heavy meal. Speaking of that meat, you can’t go wrong with the Not Yo Mama’s Fried Bologna sandwich or the slow-smoked brisket, served with Texas BBQ sauce, white bread, and pickles, or in a hoagie.

Several dishes, like the housemade sausage links, draw on German influences found in both Texas and Cincinnati cuisine, while the sides take flavors back to the country. We loved the creamy coleslaw, crispy onion straws, and chili-spiced cornbread. Rich barbeque flavors and a few drinks off of the sizable beer list hardly left us unsatiated. But if you’re feeling a little sinful, we recommend ending your meal with the Devil’s Chocolate Torte topped with fresh raspberries.

The restaurant’s character shines through its decor, which includes hanging hockey memorabilia, pictures of public figures (you decide who’s a “saint” and a “sinner”), and tables made from real NBA courts. Eating at a table that Kobe Bryant once dribbled on just adds to the ambience. Score one for the home team.

Sinners & Saints Tavern, 2062 Riverside Dr., East End, (513) 281-4355, Dinner Tues–Sun.

Competitive Weightlifter Brings GYMGUYZ Personal Training Service to Cincinnati


For Keith Connolly, working out has quite literally been a lifesaver. In the midst of an uncertain world, the Cincinnati native and competitive weightlifter is bringing a new company to the Queen City, one that he hopes will inspire others to stick to and improve their workout routines.

Connolly is the owner of Cincinnati’s first GYMGUYZ franchise, a personal training service that brings trainers and equipment to their clients for custom, one-on-one workout sessions. Founder Josh York launched the company in 2008, and now has franchises in 20 states, Washington, D.C., and Ontario. Connolly’s Eastside Cincinnati location is only the second in Ohio.

“The main thing that really attracted me to GYMGUYZ, of all of the in-home and brick-and-mortar fitness options that are available, [is that] there’s nothing as convenient, customized, and creative as GYMGUYZ,” Connolly says. “The Peloton and the Mirror workouts, they’re fantastic pieces of equipment, but without the accountability of somebody showing up to your house like GYMGUYZ is going to be doing, they become really expensive pieces of furniture in a couple of weeks.”

For Connolly, this is more than just a business venture; GYMGUYZ is an organization with a message he believes in. Connolly was born with cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, and he credits regular exercise with keeping his symptoms under control.

“When I was diagnosed with it … the life expectancy was only 18 years old,” Connolly says. “The doctors had said that exercise is important because it’s a great way to keep the lungs clear, and luckily for me, it was always something that I really enjoyed doing, so I took pretty naturally to sports and exercise in general. It’s definitely the number one reason I’m in such good health today.”

While attending Elder High School, Connolly wrestled and ran cross country, and during his undergrad he was a member of Xavier University’s cheerleading team. In 2009, while earning his MBA at Xavier, he decided to take advantage of the university’s free personal training sessions for students and was introduced to a new passion: Olympic weightlifting.

“The lady I got paired up with was getting my athletic background … and she asked me if I wanted to try Olympic weightlifting, so I just said sure without really knowing what it was,” Connolly recalls. “I ended up falling in love with it and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years now.”

In 2022, Connolly will compete in the International Weightlifting Federation’s Master’s World Championships in Orlando, Florida, which had originally been set for October 2021, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. He hopes that his success in weightlifting will encourage others with cystic fibrosis to take up an exercise routine that works for them. “People are capable of more than they realize,” he says. “Just having an example out there, to know that it is possible, helps a lot.”

In March, when gyms across the state closed due to Ohio’s stay-at-home order, Connolly bought buy a squat rack for his home before they sold out. Nevertheless, he struggled to maintain his regular workout regimen. “Working out by myself, there were days that I skipped that I didn’t normally skip, because there are people that I go in and see when I go in the gym,” he says. “Those days wouldn’t have been missed if there was somebody coming to me.”

Connolly hopes that GYMGUYZ will offer Cincinnatians a new workout option with increased accountability, particularly at a time when many are still working from home and concerned about the safety of visiting gyms during the pandemic.

“With somebody coming to your house or your job or wherever you’d like to be met for your workout, that accountability piece is there,” he says. “If you tell yourself you’re going to commit to working out three days a week, GYMGUYZ is showing up and making sure that you work out three days a week.”

The First Time a Local Newspaper Outraged Cincinnati With “Nasty, Obscene” Personal Ads


In 1885, Archbishop William Henry Elder erupted in righteous wrath, according to The Cincinnati Post [October 6]:

“We have right here in this city a daily newspaper unfit to be read by any human being, much less a Christian. Every day it is filled with reading matter that is filthy, nasty, obscene and abominable. The amount of injury that paper is doing right in our midst is incalculable. I beg you, fathers and mothers, who have the welfare of your children at heart, do not let their young minds be polluted by allowing them to read that vile sheet.”

The publication in question? None other than The Cincinnati Enquirer. The offending material? A “personals” column in the classified advertising section.

A Cincinnati Post editorial cartoon portrays an irate father vigilantly expelling a “masher” from his house as the young man attempts to deliver a letter to the resident daughter. In the second frame, the same father negligently allows his daughter to read the Enquirer where she finds a personal ad placed by the insolent masher.

Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

In 1885, there may have been fewer than a dozen telephones in town, almost all connected to businesses. Although the Post Office delivered mail three or four times a day, fathers of young ladies monitored the mailbox. How could young people set up a date? Welcome to the 1880s version of Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge: the personal ad. Here are some typical examples [September 12, 1885]:

“Meet me at same place as usual tomorrow night. M.”

“Fred of Covington. Would like to see you Saturday night at half-past eight o’clock at Fifth and Walnut sts. Kitty”

“Friendship: Let me know when and where I can see you. C.N.”

“Jack, if you are in the city now, come down tomorrow night. Alice”

“Lady acquaintance wanted. Address FUN, Enquirer Office.”

“Wanted, acquaintance of lady dressed in yellow who noticed gent on Vine above Sixth and then at Walnut and Sixth. Address ADMIRER, Enquirer Office.”

Rather than sending a postcard to a prospective love interest’s home, personals readers dropped their replies at The Enquirer, where each personal ad had an associated letterbox. This was a time when a young man, for instance, needed to ask permission of a young lady’s parents before speaking to her. Dropping by the house unannounced or leaving a calling card without permission was scandalous behavior. At the very least, such an offense would get the young swain banned from the premises. It might even lead to a well-deserved thrashing.

Naturally, the other newspapers in town proclaimed their own piety and condemned The Enquirer’s pandering. At the time, there were seven daily newspapers in Cincinnati, and that’s only those written in English. Another five were in German. The Commercial Tribune tried to organize a boycott of The Enquirer at the height of the personals scandal. The Post ran editorial after editorial bewailing the sorrowful morals of the day, such as [August 11, 1885]:

“The Personal column of The Enquirer, which is designedly maintained as a mere assignation column, is a crime against society. It is not only a daily proclamation that Cincinnati swarms with women of loose morals, and with men of lascivious desires, but it furnished the medium through which inexperienced girls are in the first instance enticed from their homes, and taught to underrate parental advice and set parental authority at defiance.”

The term “assignation” was employed deliberately. A “house of assignation” was what we might call today a “No-Tell Motel,” a house where rooms were rented by the hour. Houses of assignation were occupied by common streetwalkers and by married people having affairs. The Post was essentially calling women who read the personals column prostitutes.

In a city with its own designated “red-light” district in the West End, it was hardly necessary for prostitutes to advertise through the personals, although there were reports of women looking for a “sugar daddy” using those columns. Far more frequently, the personal advertisements allowed young couples to rendezvous away from Mom and Dad. (There is some evidence the ads were also employed by Dad or Mom to connect with an illicit love interest on the side.)

In addition, the personals provided a way for the madams who ran the brothels to recruit new talent. The Oberlin (Ohio) Weekly News [January 18, 1877] reported on a young girl who answered an advertisement for a companion, allegedly by an affluent and proper lady. On arriving in Cincinnati, the young innocent was spirited away to a brothel in which she was confined for some months before escaping.

The Enquirer’s shameful behavior inspired denunciation far beyond Cincinnati. James Parton, among the best-selling authors of the day and a resident of Massachusetts, in an essay on “Newspapers Gone to Seed” for a nationally distributed magazine, The Forum [March 1886] described “that amazing assignation column in a journal of Cincinnati, which is a blot upon the whole Mississippi valley.”

Ironically, The Enquirer itself had railed against personal classified advertisements as early as 1866 and again in 1871. At that time, the paper was struggling and owned by Washington McLean, father of John Roll McLean, who assumed ownership in 1881. Apparently the younger McLean lacked the scruples of his father.

After a couple of years of editorial huffing and puffing, the other Cincinnati daily papers either found other issues to flog or began publishing their own personals columns, especially the long-lost Cincinnati Telegram, described by one minister as a “noxious and unscrupulous sheet.”

Whether Jack and Alice ever connected is hidden in the mists of history.

Three Podcasts That Offer Parents Inspiration

Parenting can be lonely and exhausting—especially during a pandemic. These three parenting-focused podcasts can offer inspiration, encouragement, and solidarity.

Big Little Choices

Sri Bodanapu’s podcast series Big Little Choices spotlights the bold or unconventional choices mothers make (hence the name). Each episode (usually around 20 to 25 minutes long) features an interesting, open conversation with a woman who has made such a choice—say, moving to a foreign country while pregnant and launching a new business, or opting to have a home birth—to encourage mothers everywhere to make decisions that are right for them and their family.

The Double Shift

Journalist Katherine Goldstein’s series The Double Shift bills itself as a show about “a new generation of working mothers” and the challenges they face. Episodes are usually 30 to 40 minutes long and offer a mix of storytelling, profiles, and frank conversations about such weighty topics as the mental load mothers carry and parental leave policies.

Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Hosts Jamilah Lemieux and Dan Kois provide parenting advice and insight on Slate’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast. (They’re not actually fighting, just debating and discussing.) Episodes can be up to an hour long and offer plenty of practical tips from their families and experiences; one episode during the coronavirus pandemic even offered ideas to survive quarantine and for home-schooling your kids. (Warning: Episodes aren’t always friendly for little ears, as there can be explicit language.)

This Anderson Township Tudor Looks Like It’s Straight Out of Game of Thrones


5079 Signal Hill Lane

Step back in time with this medieval Tudor that channels its inner Westeros. With five bedrooms and five full and two half baths, the home spans more than 4,000 square feet on three acres in Anderson Township.

Music Room

Photograph courtesy of Robinson Sotheby’s International Realty


Photograph courtesy of Robinson Sotheby’s International Realty

Set back from the street, the facade features a variety of materials traditional to a Tudor—think stone, stucco, and brick. A circular driveway leads right to the main entrance, where medieval elements are on display: diamond-paned windows and old-style lanterns flank the front door, a heavy wood affair with its own diamond-paned window, wrought-iron strap hinges, and a heavy knocker. Inside, solid oak and hardwood floors appear throughout the home, including the living room, where a coffered ceiling with scrollwork along the main beam, a fireplace, and large windows brighten up the space. The music room features a floor-to-ceiling arched window that looks out into the front yard. The dark wood–lined ceiling and stone interior walls are reminiscent of medieval architecture, and the stained glass window and built-ins add a little charm. The office features wood-paneled walls and a corner fireplace with an intricately molded hood.

The paneling carries on into the breakfast nook in the kitchen, which also features built-in corner cupboards. In the kitchen proper, there’s an island with an eat-in bar, stainless appliances, and granite countertops that match the tiled floor. A prep-slash-drink station has slots to store wine glasses, glass-panel cabinets for bar storage, and a wine fridge. Even the staircase that takes you upstairs has carved, dark wood details. Each room on the second floor has a dark wood door and some bedrooms feature hardwood floors.

More medieval style shows up in the lower level with wood paneling, a beamed ceiling, and a working fireplace. Separate from the main space there’s a rathskeller-esque bar paneled in dark wood, diamond-paned windows, and a wine cellar. With three full acres, the privacy and greenery are a major perk of the home. A tiered deck allows plenty of space for entertaining, and it’s shaded by a massive tree. Down the hill from the house, there’s a 40-foot by 20-foot inground concrete pool with an outdoor shower, pool house, and outdoor kitchen. There’s also a surrounding deck with loads of space for lounge chairs, plus a quaint log cabin with a screened-in porch hidden in the trees. It’s basically like a summer vacation in your backyard!

Click through our gallery to view more photos (courtesy of Robinson Sotheby’s International Realty) of this home:

Kentucky Girl Scouts Partner with Grubhub So You Can Have Cookies Delivered to Your Doorstep


When the pandemic first began, Girl Scout Cookie season got cut off in its home stretch, halting all sales much to troops’ dismay. “We had to shut down booths,” says Haleigh McGraw, the Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road (GSKWR) communications and brand director. “We couldn’t be out in the public. We couldn’t go door to door.” This year, the scouts in GSKWR are ready. Cookie distribution will have a digital, contactless twist, thanks to Grubhub.

The massive overstock from last year’s stunted season got the Girl Scout team’s wheels turning, and community partnerships became the key to staying afloat. This shift helps Girl Scouts reinvigorate operations. But it brought up a pertinent question: “How can we still get our girls in front of people so that they can earn money for their business?” McGraw explains. “The Grubhub partnership evolved from there.”

Starting February 5, Lexington and Northern Kentucky cookie enthusiasts can order through the Grubhub app on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Older Girl Scouts will man “booths” located at local Grubhub offices, using their community partner’s tech infrastructure to fill orders. Customers can schedule a time to pick up their cookie order or have their cookies delivered—Grubhub is waiving all fees to make contactless delivery possible.

Starting February 1, customers in Greater Cincinnati can order cookies online by entering their zip code into the Girl Scout Cookie Finder to find a local troop near them.

Regular programming isn’t happening for local Girl Scout troops, but online platforms like Grubhub ensure that the girls are still gaining financial literacy skills and raising funds for their next adventure. “They get to use those funds for their service projects, their destination trips, when those become available,” McGraw says. “A big thing our girls have been missing out on during this is our travel opportunities.”

Specific to Northern Kentucky’s troops, a new cookie launches this year: the “Toast-Yay!,” a scrumptious cinnamon flavored cookie coated with an icy glaze to give that sweet French toast touch. (“It’s shaped like a piece of toast,” McGraw says. “Pretty cute.”)

Don’t worry, though. The classics you love—whether it be “Thin Mints,” “Tagalongs,” what have you—aren’t going anywhere, and having any of them delivered through Grubhub helps Kentucky Girl Scouts with sales. When you buy a box of cookies, 100% of those funds stay with local troops.

For more information about GSKWR, visit gskentucky.org.

Area Food Businesses Win Grants to Expand Their Reach


When Rachel DesRochers launched her first company, Grateful Grahams, in 2010, she quickly noticed that she didn’t have a peer group of like-minded business owners that she could tap into to share experiences.  

Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport

Photograph courtesy of Rachel DesRochers

“As we kept growing, I saw there was no real space or community for food entrepreneurs,” says DesRochers, who founded the Incubator Kitchen Collective (IKC), a shared-use commercial kitchen space that supports small food businesses, in 2013. “Looking back on the past 11 years, I realize it takes a community of passionate people who show up every day and work hard to make dreams come true.”

Kroger helped those dreams along when its Cincinnati/Dayton Division partnered with Incubator Kitchen Collective to offer grants to local food entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, the hometown food giant and IKC announced that five companies were selected to receive grants through the partnership.

DesRochers was introduced to Erin Rolfes, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton Division, through a friend in 2019. “When we met, [DesRochers] shared that she meets many entrepreneurs who would benefit from the incubator experience but are so early in the business that they don’t have the funding to participate,” Rolfes says. “At that point, it was an easy decision to create the fund.”

The grants will cover their rent at IKC for 2021, which will allow them to focus on getting their businesses fully launched in a commercial kitchen. The winners are:

Braziel, co-founder of the minority business incubator MORTAR, says the grant will help him launch Pata Roja Taqueria’s taco cart and expand the business’s taco kit production. 

Derrick Braziel of Pata Roja Taqueria

Photograph by Jonathan Medina

“I have worked to help Pata Roja grow our sales by almost 200 percent this year, adding staff and positioning our business to grow into 2021,” he explains. “Access to a subsidized kitchen space will enable us to truly focus on growing a business we’ve been working so hard to prove over the past two years.” 

Braziel notes that he’d previously had space at the Incubator Kitchen but had to leave because he couldn’t afford it while simultaneously trying to grow his business. “This opportunity will enable us to have the equipment we need to grow our business the way that we want to,” he adds. 

For Fawzeya Owda, whose bakery combines Middle Eastern and American baking techniques, the money will allow her to take more orders and not turn away customers. “In the past, I couldn’t take all the orders that come to me because working from my kitchen is not a big place with all the equipment that I need,” says the FreshLo Chef program graduate and mother of three. “Winning the grant was a great opportunity for me because renting a kitchen is not cheap. I’m looking forward to the chance to work in such a big industrial kitchen.” 

IKC currently operates out of a 10,000-square-foot space in Newport, supporting nearly 50 small food entrepreneurs. Over the years, the nonprofit has worked with more than 150 companies. Twenty of those companies, including Whirlybird Granola, Babushka Pierogies, Tuba Baking, Rose & Mary Bakery, and Pickled Pig, have incubated out into storefronts or larger production facilities.

“Local businesses are an important piece to keeping our economy healthy,” Rolfes says. “We’re proud to play a small role in helping these amazing food entrepreneurs bring their businesses to the next level—and I look forward to being able to purchase their delicious items in Kroger one day.”

New Hyde Park Pizzeria Gives Pop-Up Shop a Permanent Home


When you open your own pizza shop, you can put whatever you want on the walls. Take Alex Plattner. He loves Henri Matisse, so when you step into his small pizzeria in Hyde Park, you’re met with a wall coated in Matisse-inspired black cut-outs. It’s bold. It’s graphic. And it’s a whole lot of fun.

Plattner plans to open his pizzeria, Parlor Pizza Project, the second week of February, a timeline he calls “cautiously optimistic.” 

“Everything has been good so far,” he says. “There are always little hiccups and things, [but] since I took over an existing restaurant space, I avoided a lot of the challenges of a full buildout and all that goes with that.”

Alex Plattner (left) with the owner of The Rhined, Stephanie Webster

Photograph courtesy of Alex Plattner

If Parlor Pizza Project sounds a little familiar to you, it may be because you’ve perhaps had some of Plattner’s pies before at Oakley Wines, where he’s hosted the Parlor Pizza Project pop-up on Sundays since this summer. His last pop-up is planned for January 31.

In his own pizzeria, he will be able to offer a larger menu with more options. At Oakley Wines, customers could choose from two or three pies. In his restaurant, Plattner plans to stick with five or six signature options, plus a create-your-own pizza where customers can put together their favorite toppings, and all pies will be 16 inches. 

While Plattner’s background is not in food—he came from the education field, where he was a teacher and administrator—he’s had a history of seeking out good pizza since childhood, he explains. He prefers pies with a little spice and simple toppings: a meat and a veggie. His go-to has Italian sausage and some of Parlor’s pickled peppers, plus a lot of fresh basil. “I like pizzas that feel fresh, not [like] somebody cracked open a can and put something boring on there,” he says.

Given Parlor Pizza Project’s space and set-up, opening during a pandemic didn’t add as much of a hurdle as might be expected. While customers will one day be able to stand up and eat at the tall tables at the windows, Parlor’s menu is to-go only right now. In fact, according to the Instagram announcement he made to his followers about the restaurant, the pandemic might have actually helped Platter open Parlor in its own space. He wrote, “The pandemic forced me to distill my many vague and ever-changing plans for the future, and most of all, convinced me that I’ve got to go for it. I love to make pizza and I can’t wait to get this thing going.” 

“The restaurant is so small and limited with what I’m doing, and I’ve seen more and more restaurants being forced to scale down and focus on a couple things like carry out,” he says. “I never wanted to open big restaurant. This isn’t a crazy weird thing to do. People are always going to be drawn to pizza and carry out, even in a pandemic.”

Parlor’s location is in something of a special spot for Plattner; he grew up just down the street and a number of his family member still live nearby. “I really want to get to know the people in the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s why I like food in the first place—the relationships.”

Saving the American Chestnut Tree


His branches ruffle in the light breeze under a brilliant sun, a lone sentry in a clearing surrounded by the traditional guardians of Ohio’s forests. The hemlocks, maples, white ash, and sycamores seem to watch over him, giving the youngster the space and energy to grow. And he has.

At age 3, he’s already more than 12 feet tall, and his distinctive foliage suggests he is healthy and ready to reign as the King of Hocking Hills. Instead, he’ll likely wither and die within the next 10 years.

As pioneers poured over the Allegheny Mountains in the 1780s and began settling eastern Ohio, they passed under the canopy of millions of American chestnut trees. We would be awestruck by what they saw: mammoth brownish-gray columns of bark towering 100 feet in the air, the first branches not poking out until halfway up to heaven before splaying their splendor in a crown of green sawtooth leaves.

Below, the barren forest floor awaited the first crisp days of autumn, when the trees’ fertilized yellow-brown burrs would burst open and release a shower of shiny, mahogany-colored nuts. They were manna from heaven, an annual gift that fed people and animals. They were nutritious and delicious. There were so many, legend had it that the early settlers could walk for miles on a carpet of chestnuts.

The wood itself sported a coarse grain and a range of colors. And there was a lot of it. The trunks, at their base, could exceed eight feet in diameter. Chestnut wood was almost as strong as oak but with half the weight. It was easy to work with. Pioneers used it to build their cabins and barns, and, because it was rot-resistant, it was a “must have” for foundations and floors. Leftover wood was made into bed frames, cabinets, tables, and chairs.

“It was known as the perfect tree,” says Carolyn Keiffer, a botany professor at Miami University’s Middletown campus and president of the Ohio chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). “Everyone loved the chestnut. The pioneers needed the chestnut. Even today, it makes everyone smile.”

Nearly 4 billion chestnut trees stood guard down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia. They were about a quarter of the trees in the forest, and their range extended west into Ohio, about as far as Chillicothe. Then, around the turn of the 20th century, a blight arrived with imported Asian chestnut trees and infected the native trees.

“It’s a good early example about how transportation is killing the world,” says Brian McCarthy, a professor of ecology at Ohio University. “We’re seeing it now with the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorn beetle. Imported insects, invasive plants, and pathogens are carried here, and the native ecosystem has no way to defend itself.”

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840)

The Asian chestnut trees were exotic, and American consumers loved them. They had no idea they were planting a Trojan horse. Embedded in its genome was a lethal fungus, cryphonectria parasitica, neutralized in Asia through adaptation over centuries. But it was an unrelenting killer here. The first American chestnut died in what is now the Bronx Zoo in 1904, and the fungus marched like an unstoppable army, reaching Ohio in 1932. Within three years, it had all but wiped out our chestnut trees. The species is now known by scientists as “functionally extinct.”

Stephen Rist

Photograph by Carlie Burton

“It’s an airborne fungus that can be spread through the wind and by birds or squirrels,” Stephen Rist explains as we examine a stand of chestnuts planted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). A few yards away, the roar of a couple of motorcycles brutalizes the silence, then suddenly passes, returning Hocking Hills State Forest to sweet birdsong.

Rist, who manages ODNR District 4, uses his long legs to jump fallen logs and stomp down thick underbrush, assorted seedlings, and weeds in his path. These chestnuts are hybrids: 15/16th American and 1/16th blight-resistant Asian. It’s a crossbreeding experiment, one of three strategies TACF is employing in what’s already a decades-long effort to restore the tree. The foundation calls it the 3BUR strategy, which stands for breeding, biotechnology, and biocontrol united for restoration. It sounds a bit like a marketing campaign, but it’s pure science—though some of it is controversial.

The saplings are encased in nearly opaque 5-foot-tall white tubes, but their branches are starting to poke out the top. They aren’t sick yet, but they’re sharing their environment with their killer. “The fungus is everywhere. It’s probably on the soles of your shoes right now,” says Rist ominously, strangely making me scratch my ankles.

Chestnut saplings in Hocking Hills State Park.

Photograph by Carlie Burton

Just a few hundred yards from this hillside lies the spot where Keiffer fell in love with the chestnut. With interests in both botany and hunting, she was drawn to a study known as “restorative ecology.” An undergrad course at Ohio University took her to Hocking Hills, where she discovered a chestnut sprout near Old Man’s Cave. “I tucked that in the back of my head and then, in grad school at OU, I chose the chestnut for a seminar I had to do on a disease or pathogen,” she says.

Keiffer asked for information from TACF and was dumbfounded with the material they sent her. “I couldn’t believe there were people out there who’d take the time to help a student,” she remembers. Her love connection with the chestnut was complete.

“She walked into my office one day and asked me what I knew about the chestnut tree, and I said, Well, not very much,” McCarthy recalls of his grad student. “It wasn’t long after that she introduced me to TACF, and I started to look at how we might insert a restoration colony into our forest ecosystem.” He’s now the chairman of TACF’s board of directors.

McCarthy was particularly fascinated with a stand of chestnuts near La Crosse, Wisconsin, that was still standing tall and healthy. In the 1880s, a farmer had brought about a dozen chestnuts from central Pennsylvania, planted the seeds 50 feet apart, and let nature take its course. They flourished and procreated up to 6,000 healthy trees, probably because Wisconsin was more than 500 miles west of the chestnut’s natural range.

It took 102 years, but the fungus finally caught up with this defiant stand of trees. Wisconsin forestry experts moved aggressively—even coating the trees in bleach—but the fungus was stubbornly resilient. Finally, in 1992, scientists from Michigan State University and the University of West Virginia tried a biocontrol, inserting into the infected trees a virus extracted from a tree canker in Florence, Italy. Its chemistry weakened the chestnut fungus, giving the host tree the boost it needed to stay alive.

The approach worked for a while, McCarthy notes, but the combination of harsh Wisconsin winters and a severe drought around 2010 seems to have weakened the Tuscan virus and, sadly, not the fungus. The Wisconsin chestnut miracle grove is failing, but McCarthy believes it’s proved that biocontrol is a viable strategy.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—William Butler Yeats (1926)

What’s intriguing about the chestnut is that it’s as stubborn as its mortal enemy. The fungus kills the tree, but it doesn’t kill the roots. So, when a chestnut tree succumbs and eventually falls, stump shoots or root shoots spring forth to begin the life-and-death cycle all over again.

An infected American chestnut tree

Photograph by Carlie Burton

An infected American chestnut tree

Photograph by Carlie Burton

The sprouts grow quickly, and their smooth bark, like a baby’s skin, shows no break. But, Keiffer says, after a tree reaches five to seven years old and begins to bear fruit, the expanding bark roughens and small breaks, some imperceptible to the human eye, appear. Insects may enter and make the holes bigger. Squirrels may scramble up the bark looking for the nuts, their claws ripping at the bark.

The fungal spores, like running backs who see a hole in the defensive line, break through. The tree is ultimately doomed.

Rist examines and photographs an infected tree in the Zaleski State Forest just west of Athens. The trunk is disfigured with dozens of bright orange pustules, the fungus’s fatal signature. They contain oxalic acid that will slip under the bark and attack the cambium, the next layer in, destroying the tree’s growth hormones first. Eventually, they’ll form a ring around the tree, choking it to death. Everything above the ring will die; everything below, including those reincarnated roots, will live.

The crossbreeding strategy is designed to add just enough genetic material from the Asian chestnut to give the overall tree a viable defense. Asian chestnuts are attacked by the fungus too, but the species has built up enough immunity that it isn’t fatal. Scientists have crossed the American chestnut with the Asian variety through several generations now to the point where the overall tree is about 95 percent American. The crossbreeding has shown some promise, but it’s a slow process. Trees have their own timetable.

“What’s missing [with the crossbreeding] is the magnificent stature,” says Tom Brochu, a retired company executive from Veritiv Corporation, a spinoff of International Paper. Brochu now serves as a trail ambassador at the Cincinnati Nature Center, where two years ago he planted about a dozen pure-bred American chestnuts. “It’s for experiential learning,” he says. “It’s for the kids who come here. They learn about this great tree and what’s happened to it. Maybe it inspires them to take an interest in field biology.”

Brochu anticipates no miracles for his trees. Chestnuts don’t like southwestern Ohio’s limestone-based alkaline soil, but it won’t kill them. The fungus will.

The American-Asian crossbred trees, even after several generations, produce shorter, bushier offspring, mimicking the characteristics of the Asian chestnut. They do produce nuts like other chestnut varieties, but they’re not as sweet or nutritious and their output per tree falls short of the prolific American chestnut.

Perhaps as discouraging, Keiffer and McCarthy point out, is the discovery through gene-mapping technology that resistance to the blight is imprinted on nine different chromosomes of the Asian chestnut, not two as originally thought. “That’s set the whole traditional crossbreeding program back,” Keiffer says. McCarthy agrees, noting, “This might explain why the results we’ve gotten aren’t what they should be after 30 years of crossbreeding.”

Continuous crossbreeding by recrossing the best with the best might still work in the end, but those Asian bushy chromosomes won’t go quietly.

A young chestnut tree in Hocking Hills State Park. Will it live beyond its teen years?

Photograph by Carlie Burton

Another approach to breeding in fungus resistance is gene editing, in which the American chestnut genome is changed to reduce its vulnerability to the fungus, replacing the defective genes with those from another species. For more than 30 years, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) have been working to create a genetically-engineered, blight-resistant American chestnut using enzymes specifically targeted to insert a gene from the ordinary wheat plant into the chestnut’s DNA sequence. It’s known as CRISPR technology.

Scientists knew the wheat gene contained codes for an enzyme called oxalate oxidase, which through a chemical reaction breaks down the oxalic acid the fungus releases into the chestnut. It didn’t work at first, but when SUNY scientists amped up the gene sequence, the inoculated trees were blight resistant and passed their resistance to the next generation. The trees produced nuts, and tests demonstrated they mimicked their natural “cousins.” They’re now known as Darling 58 trees—named for a man in western New York on whose property a single healthy, nut-producing American chestnut was discovered in 1989.

For the last six years, the growing trees have been sequestered behind a high deer fence in a special field near the SUNY campus in Syracuse, closely monitored and government regulated. Their reproductive parts are double bagged, so their pollen doesn’t leave quarantine. The plan is, when approved by three agencies of the federal government, to introduce them to the forest, breeding them with different strands of existing American chestnuts to achieve a new variety of the species.

The process is controversial, as all genetically modified plants seem to be. It’s caused a rift within TACF, and some long-time members have left the organization. It concerns some proponents of crossbreeding who worry this shiny new object will distract and overwhelm their continuing research. And it’s alarmed some in the environmental community, who question the ethics and the unknown impact on the existing forest.

“We’re not doing anything weird here,” McCarthy insists, noting this specific wheat gene is in bread, cereal, peanuts, bananas, spinach, and more than 100 other foods. “The idea is to take a gene from a closely related source and move it to where nature can take its course.”

Keiffer agrees, adding, “We’re not creating a Frankenfood here. This is real science. It’s a tool we need to consider.”

Brochu, who has an undergraduate degree from SUNY-ESF, is excited about the work his alma mater is doing and has filed comments with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first federal agency to review SUNY’s petition to release Darling 58 into the forest ecology. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency will need to approve the genetically modified tree as well, so the process could take as long as five years.

“This is good science even in this confrontational era,” Brochu asserts, admitting he can become emotional about the American chestnut. “As a human race, we have done a lot of damage to our environment. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, in our lifetimes, we saved a species?”

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
—Robert Wells and Mel Torme (1945)

Back in the Hocking Hills woods, Rist and I relax outside an ODNR cabin. He tells me about his two young sons and how they love the outdoors. A flock of noisy Canada geese interrupt his train of thought, but I get it: His sons are just like him. A fat, green walnut falls from above, bouncing off the top of my head. Rist laughs, noting the forest has a sense of humor.

He also knows it’s missing something—a skyline highlighted by the stately American chestnut. He imagines a future forest rejuvenated by grafts from today’s chestnuts and bred with either crossbred or genetically-modified trees, the dreaded fungus rendered benign.

Rist makes it clear he’d love to be one of the new Johnny Appleseeds who will dig the holes and drop the seeds into southeastern Ohio’s acidic soil. And he hopes his two young sons will one day, like the original pioneers, walk on a carpet of chestnuts.

Four Local Designers You Should Get to Know


Whether you’re looking for a fun gift for your bestie or are seeking high-quality design and branding work for your business, these four local designers make the world a little brighter with their quirky, retro, and one-of-a-kind work.

Pop Rocket Creations Owners Kyle and Melissa Sliney

Photograph courtesy of Pop Rocket Creations

Pop Rocket Creations

At Pop Rocket Creations, the designs are kitschy, retro, and super playful. Consider the iron-on patch of a bat in 3D glasses or the Creature of the Night coffee mug, complete with pea green sludge bubbling over the rim. Purchase their goodies online or at nearly a dozen locations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Owners Kyle and Melissa Sliney also work with clients directly, offering services ranging from photography and design to social media and branding. The husband-and-wife creative team works out of their Madisonville home studio.

Wolf Bomb

The graphic design work at Wolf Bomb studio is modern, clean, and brightly colored—and it grew out of a love for music. Owner Alexander Scaglia designed T-shirts and gig posters for his high school band. Today, Wolf Bomb offers prints and apparel, including hats and T-shirts. Scaglia also works on designs for local companies like Proud Hound Coffee Roasters and Rooted Juicery & Kitchen.

A.P. Loves Design

Westwood resident Andi Ploehs started designing greeting cards after working at an ad agency, “and I haven’t looked back,” she says.

Andi Ploehs

Photograph courtesy of A.P. Loves Design

A.P. Loves Design

Photograph courtesy of A.P. Loves Design

Her shop, A.P. Loves Design, has been on Etsy since 2012 and features paper goods to help you feel good, including notepads, stickers, cards, and custom illustrations. Ploehs’s work features bold colors and simple, encouraging messaging, like Self-care is important and You’re freaking awesome! Like really. Shoppers can customize their cards with their own names and favorite color.

Colette Paperie

The designs at Colette Paperie are bold, bright, and a little cheeky. Card sentiments include You are a flamingo in a world of boring-ass pigeons and Congrats on the huge boobs. (Oh, and the pregnancy).

In addition to cards, shoppers can find paper goods ranging from prints and stickers to coloring books, plus gift items like pencils and key chains—all featuring designer Keli Spanier’s wit and cheer. Find Colette Paperie online and in shops coast to coast, including throughout Cincinnati.