More than a century before Vine Street’s current boom, this stretch of street was an entertainment mecca packed with beer gardens, breweries, and famous theaters. The Coliseum Theater, between 12th and 13th streets, featured artistic performing groups and sharpshooting shows. Anna Von Behren was tragically and famously killed there by her husband Frank Frayne during a sharpshooting act on Thanksgiving Day 1882. Today, Over-the-Rhine’s main thoroughfare offers a variety of boutiques and eateries, including these six standout spots.
Carolyn and Mike Deininger opened this stationery store and local art gallery in response to a growing number of customer requests for fine paper goods at their gift boutique Mica 12/v, which is just a few doors down. Visit for artfully crafted holiday cards, a range of elevated pens and pencils, and beautiful framed prints. 1207 Vine St., (513) 421-3500, shoppaperwings.com
Jewelry historian and Ball State University professor Jenna Shaifer spent 20 years working in the art and fashion industry before opening this rotating exhibit of contemporary jewelry crafted by artists and metalworkers from around the globe. Think modern and artistic pieces such as burnt wood–inspired brooches and bent-metal flower petal earrings. 1429 Vine St., (513) 813-7278, ombregallery.com
Jack Wood Gallery
Looking for a unique gift for your artistically inclined friend or family member? Jack Wood Gallery draws on the Queen City’s prestigious printmaking history with an incredible collection of vintage prints from the 19th and 20th centuries—from literary and world war posters to some of the most famous marketing advertisements. 1413 Vine St., (513) 909-3298, jackwoodgallery.com
Candle Lab OTR
Forget settling on a substandard scent. Candle Lab turns the traditional candle shopping experience on its head: Start with your choice of more than 120 fragrances, then pour some wax to create your very own customized candle. Start your Vine Street shopping day here so you can return later for pickup—each candle takes about 30 minutes to create and 90 minutes to cool before it’s ready to take home. 1325 Vine St., (614) 915-0777 x4, thecandlelab.com
Smith & Hannon Bookstore
During a year that’s sparked a major national awakening on racial injustice, it’s the perfect time to gift someone on your holiday list a paperback (or hard cover) from this independent seller with a focus on African American literature, previously housed in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. You’ll also find an assortment of African clothing, wood carvings, and jewelry. 1405 Vine St., (513) 641-2700
1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab
Warm up during a frigid day of holiday shopping with a to-go pour-over coffee, frothy latte, or fresh pastry, but don’t skimp on the wine. Pick up a bottle (or four) from a large curated selection of reds, whites, sparklings, and rosés for holiday gatherings or to celebrate checking off a few items from your shopping list. 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, 1215 Vine St., (513) 429-5745, 1215vine.com
For almost a century, the “Coney island of the West” was the reigning Cincinnati amusement park, despite tough competition from Chester park in Spring Grove Village and the Lagoon in Ludlow, Kentucky. Now operating as a water park and concert venue, memories of the Old Coney abide.
It Started Out As An Apple Orchard
Coney Island got its start as Parker’s Grove. In the early 1880s James Parker started to rent out his apple orchard on the banks of the Ohio River as a picnic grove, eventually adding a dining hall, dancing hall, and bowling alley.
For Many Years, ‘Coney Island’ Was Just A Nickname
In 1886, James Parker sold his apple orchard to a couple of steamboat captains who recognized the opportunity to collect a lot more fares by shipping customers upriver from Cincinnati. The park got a new name: “Ohio Grove.” The new owners advertised Ohio Grove as “The Coney Island of the West,” after the well-established Coney Island in Brooklyn. It was years later that the resort was officially named “Coney Island.”
Why Didn’t The Brooklyn Coney Island Sue?
Didn’t Cincinnati’s amusement park steal its name from a famous New York resort? You betcha! Then why didn’t they sue? The New York Coney Island is not actually an amusement park, it’s a neighborhood. At its height, the New York Coney Island was home to three major amusement parks – Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park – along with a plethora of independent amusements, none of them named Coney Island. Cincinnati’s Coney Island didn’t copy from another amusement park and therefore got away with grand larceny.
The Coney Island Run Was Bad Luck For Steamboats
Although most people remember only the Island Queen, over the years nearly 20 steamboats made the Coney Island run. The Mary Houston ran only one season before succumbing to the 1893 ice breakup; the Commonwealth rammed a towboat in 1895; the Princess was crushed when the Ohio froze over in 1917, the Morning Star burned with the original Island Queen in 1922, the Island Maid burned at Madison, Indiana, in 1932, and the second, most-remembered Island Queen exploded in Pittsburgh in 1947.
Coney’s Pleasures Were Not For Everyone
It took a concerted effort to open Coney Island’s gates to Cincinnati’s African American residents. The amusement park was totally segregated until 1955 and the Sunlite Pool and Moonlight Gardens did not admit Black people until 1961.
A Narrow Decision On Integration
In 1953, Ethel Fletcher and her three children were denied admission to Coney Island because they were Black. With the assistance of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she sued and won. However, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas refused to certify the case as a class action. The decision applied to Mrs. Fletcher, alone. Coney Island was required to admit her, the court ruled, but could deny admission to her children, her husband or to anyone else.
A Really, Really Big Pool
Sunlite Pool is the world’s largest recirculating swimming pool. It covers more than two acres. For many years, Sunlite Pool was filled entirely from artesian wells drilled on the property. Today that well water is supplemented by city water originating in the Ohio River.
Coney Island Helped Inspire Disneyland
Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, visited Coney Island in June 1953 to gather ideas for the California amusement park they planned. They were impressed by owner Ed Schott, and invited him to advise on their project. At a Cincinnati news conference, Disney said Schott’s advice had been “very valuable” in making Disneyland a success.
Rainy Birth, Rainy Death
It rained torrentially the first day Ohio Grove opened in 21 June 1886 and it rained torrentially the day Coney Island closed on 6 September 1971.
One Explosive Act
Throughout the summer of 1948, one of the attractions on Coney’s Mall was Captain Leo Simon, “The Man Who Blows Himself Up.” Capt. Simon would seal himself in a box with a lit stick of dynamite and emerge unscathed from a cloud of smoke.
Al Hirt Sets A Moonlite Gardens Record
The one-night attendance record at Moonlite Gardens was set 18 July 1964 when Al Hirt packed in 6,266 dancers. Hirt, riding on the success of his instrumental hit, “Java,” broke the previous record of 5,564 set by Ralph Marterie’s Orchestra on 25 July 1953.
A Twelve-Acre Wading Pool
Lake Como was excavated and filled in 1893, offering rides in gondolas. It took so long to fill that it was nicknamed “Colonel Brooks’ Duck Pond” by local wags. Most people could walk across Lake Como if they wanted. Completely filled the lake is only three to four feet deep, all the way across. Lake Como covers an area of 12 acres.
Ghost of the Roller Coasters
If you’ve ever felt a sort of swooping motion while enjoying a performance at Riverbend Music Center there might be a reason. The concert pavilion sits on land that once belonged to Coney Island and was occupied by the Wildcat and the Shooting Star roller coasters.
Every autumn, as Coney Island closed for the winter, the hand-carved Grand Carousel horses were dismantled and moved to high-ground storage in the attic of Moonlite Gardens to keep them dry when the Ohio River inevitably flooded. The Grand Carousel was made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1926 and was moved to King’s Island in 1972.
Old Coney Is Haunted
There are multiple reports of a man, sometimes accompanied by a woman, gazing from the balcony at Moonlite Gardens. The man wears old-fashioned clothing. Witnesses, when shown photos of George Schott, Coney Island’s one-time owner, agree he is the man they saw. Schott died at the park from a heart attack in 1935.
Davy Crockett Killed Coney Island
In 1968, Fess Parker, the actor who portrayed both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, announced plans to build a huge “Frontier World” amusement park in Northern Kentucky. The owners of Coney Island, landlocked and unable to expand, realized the competition would be fatal and quickly negotiated a merger with Taft Broadcasting. Plans for the “New Coney Island” at Kings Mills, Ohio, made headlines in 1969. Coney Island closed in 1971 and Kings Island opened in 1972.
A Gigantic RV Park?
Before Taft Broadcasting reopened “Old Coney” in a limited capacity in 1976, the company gained approval from the Cincinnati City Planning Commission for a zoning change that would have allowed parking for 300 to 400 recreational vehicles and camper trailers.
Some of you might be thinking that the best thing about 2020 is it’s almost over. I can’t argue. It’s been a daunting, draining year of upheaval thanks to an invisible virus we still don’t know much about or have under control, and it divided us as much as brought us together.
The only comparable year in my life is 1968. I was a kid and remember watching news reports from burning cities on our black-and-white TV and seeing the nuns console a schoolmate whose brother had been killed in Vietnam. It was the year marginalized Americans—youth, communities of color, the poor—challenged the government’s lies about Vietnam and demanded a seat at the political table. Two charismatic leaders giving their movement legitimacy and hope, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, were assassinated. President Johnson, who had championed civil rights but expanded the war, decided not to run for reelection, and repulsive Richard Nixon won the White House.
There were earlier years when Americans must have felt as lost as we do now: the Great Depression of the late 1930s, the influenza pandemic in 1918–1919, the Civil War. Those times are studied in high school history classes, as is 1968, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people living, dying, fighting, and struggling in those times were just regular Americans doing the best they could under the circumstances.
One day high school kids will have a chapter in their U.S. history books devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021 (and hopefully not ’22 or ’23). Maybe their virtual reality classroom will include this month’s Cincinnati Magazine, and they’ll learn a little about what day-to-day life was really like. As you’ll see in “Best of the City,” it wasn’t all bad. People stepped up to help each other during the pandemic, got creative to keep schools and businesses going, and found ways to distract themselves from boredom and isolation. What’s still to be written is how we carry that strength and resiliency forward into the new year.
If you’ve ever strolled along the Historic Licking Riverside District in Covington, you’ve probably laid eyes on this historic home on Shelby Street near the corner of Riverside Drive—its second-story porch overlooking the river. Current owner Lorrie Miller Hill and her husband decided to move from their hectic New York City lifestyle in 2018. “Where better to slow things down than the south, we thought,” Hill says. “Just across the river from family and friends in Cincinnati.” The couple moved after Hill and her daughter spotted the home on a trip to visit family. They coined their new digs The Covington River House.
Built in the mid 1800s as a carriage house for 420 Riverside, the house has been updated to now have three bedrooms and three bathrooms. “My favorite place in the house is the upstairs side porch,” Hill says. “It’s so charming and makes the house look like something you’d find in Charleston, not Covington.” She adds that they rebuilt the porch to accommodate regular time outside for coffee in the morning and cocktails at night. The actual entrance to the home is a little hidden with a charming brick porch to welcome guests. Hardwood floors throughout the home mesh well with the white walls and other elements like the working fireplace in the dining room.
The kitchen boasts sleek, hardware-less cabinets and stainless appliances. The living room features most of the same elements, but the staircase adds interesting design. “One of my favorite things are the brass panels on the staircase that came from a jewelry store in Indianapolis,” Hill says. “To compliment the panels, I added a vintage Neiman Marcus light fixture in the stairwell that looks like a piece of jewelry itself.” The panels act as bannisters in the open staircase to the second floor. Continuing the theme of clean lines, hardwood, and white walls, the master also includes an open walk-in closet and space for the bed to overlook the river. Other notable rooms include an office with another fireplace and a side porch as another spot to enjoy the scenery just off the kitchen.
The Historic Licking Riverside District is a peaceful spot in the heart of Covington. The convenience of walking everywhere—nearby restaurants, the Covington Farmers’ Market at the foot of the Roebling Bridge every Saturday—was a huge plus for Hill and her family. “We love walking to Cincinnati for sporting events, festivals, and restaurants,” she says. “Our dogs, wary of crossing the Roebling Bridge at first, are now pros—they’ve gone from country collies to city collies.”
Word of mouth about Cheng’s handmade wonton dumplings with homestyle Cantonese flavors spread quick. Just a month into her Findlay Kitchen pop-up, Yee Mama, her orders had doubled. Now she’s considering scaling her one-woman business but enjoying the ride in the meantime.
How did you get started with Yee Mama?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, so I grew up eating Cantonese food. I moved to America when I was 17 and I have lived in different cities. Two years ago I moved to Cincinnati for my day job. I have always loved to cook but it’s really hard to find Cantonese food [in Cincinnati]. There are a lot of good Chinese restaurants, but they’re more Sichuan style, the northern style, but not really Cantonese style. Cantonese food is sweet and savory and it’s a balance of flavor—not too spicy. I felt that there was a gap in the market and I wanted to see if I could build a small business out of it. Right now it’s just wonton—I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Do you have a background in food?
No, I work for UC, but I have a food blog, and sometimes I will post cooking videos and stuff. But no, it’s just something I like to do. It’s kind of like a therapy for me when I cook. I like to cook for friends and family.
What’s the difference between your wontons and the other Asian dumplings people may be familiar with?
I get this question all the time. So basically wonton is a type of dumpling. There are many types of dumplings: Chinese style, Japanese style, Korean style. The wonton wrapper is a lot more delicate—it’s thin. Wonton is a Hong Kong food. You never really pan fry them. You either boil them or [deep] fry them. They’re really light and delicate.
Where does the name Yee Mama come from?
I was thinking about branding and the name, and I think about the type of food that I crave, which is, a lot of time, homestyle cooking. I grew up and spent a lot of time with my aunt. In Cantonese you call your aunt yee ma, but because she took care of me a lot and I’m really close with her I call her yee mama—“mama” means “mom,” so I like the double meaning. My mom spent a lot of time working—she has her own career—so I like the idea of combining mom and aunt as the name. The funny thing is my Cantonese name has “yee” in it—my Cantonese name is Chiuyee Cheng. So I felt like it all came together.
When it comes to your wontons, do you use family recipes or have you come up with your own?
It’s mostly my own style. The shrimp and pork one is a traditional recipe. It’s what you would get in a lot of Hong Kong diners. But for other flavor combinations, I get the inspiration from some of the dim sum that I like—which is also a Cantonese food—and also from other Asian food that I like. I have a traditional recipe but also other variations.
How can people order your wontons?
Right now, it’s a once-a-week pop-up with preordering. The web shop goes live on Sunday at noon, so you place an order and you pick it up on Wednesday at Findlay Kitchen.
How has the business grown since you started, and where do you see it going?
I have doubled the amount I make each week [between August and September]. I think it may be because of the whole COVID thing. People want to cook at home and it’s something new to them, and it’s pretty affordable. For now it’s just me, so if I continue to expand I may have to hire more people. Even though I don’t know exactly whether I want a takeout restaurant, a restaurant, or to do wholesale, I think what I really want to do is bring the Cantonese homestyle cooking to Cincinnati. I love all the Chinese restaurants in town but it’s different from what I ate growing up. I just love that craveable flavor, like what your mom would make.
Yee Mama, 1719 Elm St. (Findlay Kitchen), Over-the-Rhine
Support a local business like Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment this holiday season by purchasing gift cards at a great discount. Known for an impeccable, total dining experience, Jeff Ruby’s trio of restaurants offer award-winning steaks and seafood in an elegant atmosphere perfect for any celebration. Each of the three eateries—The Precinct, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, and Carlo and Johnny’s—are here for your holiday celebrations, takeout, delivery, and meal kit needs this year.
Stock up on Gift Cards
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Not only are Jeff Ruby’s gift cards valid for dine-in, they can also be used for carryout, curbside meal kit pickup, and delivery. The 20% off offer is valid Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday (Nov. 26-Nov. 30). Purchase online at JeffRuby.com and send digital gift cards too.
Buy Shippable Gifts This Year
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Enjoy Full-Menu Home Delivery
Instead of stressing over what to cook this holiday season, Jeff Ruby’s now offers their entire menu for delivery. Whether you’re hosting close relatives or just need a break from making dinner for a night, order Jeff Ruby’s online. Menu items include everything from the raw bar (except oysters) and signature steaks to beer and wine. The full menu is available for carryout as well.
When it comes to condiments, Cincinnatians have lots of options to choose from. This year, Sam Pellerito has thrown his hat in the ring with CinSoy Foods’ locally made soy sauce.
His business idea stemmed from his history as a professional chef. With a degree from Johnson & Wales, he had the opportunity travel the world, working in different restaurant kitchens and with startup companies along the way.
Pellerito spent some time tinkering with his fermentation process and the first product on his list to create was soy sauce. At the time, he was traveling throughout Asia and tasting as many styles of soy sauce as he could find. “I would be in Hong Kong tasting all these different soy sauces and coming back home and adjusting mine,” he says. “Finally, after about two years, I decided this might be what I want to do.”
Pellerito launched his company in January but the pandemic didn’t completely stop his momentum. Despite limited hours and event cancellations, he was able to hold several tastings around town before releasing his first batch of soy sauce this summer, which sold out in a few weeks.
He uses traditional Japanese techniques that increase the “umami” (aka savoriness) of the local ingredients. And any leftovers from the fermentation process go into making a crystalized soy sauce. “If you don’t know how to marinate a steak, you can sprinkle it on there and have it completely change your meal,” he says.
Soy sauce is just the beginning for Pellerito. He’s currently expanding his lineup with tofu and miso paste, and plans to bring the products to more local retailers in the near future.
Right now, you can find CinSoy Foods’ soy sauce in various locations, including Findlay Market, Kiki, and Rooted Juicery, as well as on his website.
In late June, when a prototype of Lordstown Motors’s new Endurance electric pickup truck rolled on stage at the old General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, the cab’s passenger doors popped open and out stepped Cincinnati entrepreneur Steve Burns, the company’s CEO, and Vice President Mike Pence, dressed in a perfectly-tailored dark suit.
Pence took the podium in front of a giant American flag to become the truck’s unofficial pitchman. “It really is an honor to be here, to be able to drive up and help unveil what will soon be the first fully electric pickup truck on the market in the United States of America,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Lordstown Endurance.” The announcement was met with wild applause from a small but enthusiastic audience of company executives, government leaders, and investors.
In the run-up to November’s presidential election, Lordstown has become as much a political issue as an economic one. During the Republican National Convention in August, a prerecorded video featured Youngstown trucker Geno DiFabio standing with Pence in front of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Indiana, thanking Trump for his handling of GM’s shutdown of the Lordstown plant. DiFabio says GM wouldn’t have sold the plant to Lordstown Motors without Trump in office. “There’s no other president that could have done it,” he said. “There’s no one that has even tried to do it. President Trump’s a doer. He appreciates every one of us, and I know he does. I’ve seen it.”
But Democrats beg to differ. Lordstown Motors’s plan to hire 600 workers is hardly compensation for an assembly plant that once employed thousands. Senator Sherrod Brown says Trump ignored his repeated calls asking the president to intervene when GM closed the plant. In a statement released just prior to Pence’s unveiling of the Endurance, Brown said, “When GM pulled out of Lordstown, President Trump didn’t lift a finger to help, while his tax bill gave GM a 50 percent coupon to ship jobs overseas. The people of Lordstown…don’t need a photo op, they need action.”
Even if Lordstown Motors begins production next year as promised, motorists aren’t likely to see an Endurance zipping past them on the highway with a gun rack in the back window or a tongue-lolling dog in the truck bed. With a price tag of $52,500 and a range of 250 miles per charge, the Endurance is being aimed at the full-sized commercial fleet market whose business owners covet the truck’s fuel economy—the equivalent of a 75-mile-per-gallon gas-powered vehicle.
Known more as a high-tech innovator with strong sales skills than a manager who can bring a successful product to market, Steve Burns has brokered a complex deal to turn his 17-month-old private venture into a publicly traded company with an expected infusion of $675 million in cash. If the deal is finalized, Lordstown Motors will merge later this year with DiamondPeak Holdings, a company formed specifically to purchase Lordstown Motors and raise money for it on the Nasdaq stock market under the trading symbol RIDE. DiamondPeak’s investors have already agreed to pump $500 million into the new company.
Shell companies like DiamondPeak, known as special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, are an increasingly popular shortcut to turn private startups into public companies and, critics say, to avoid more serious scrutiny from investors. DiamondPeak was the brainchild of David Hamamoto, an East Coast real estate whiz who’s been at the helm of a dozen different companies. Hamamoto, 59, will remain chief executive of DiamondPeak while Burns will continue as CEO of Lordstown Motors. Burns and Hamamoto did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.
Hamamoto and another principal investor in DiamondPeak, Mark Walsh, are well known on Wall Street as real estate dealmakers. Both have had dramatic upturns and downturns in their careers. Walsh was flying high as head of Lehman Brothers’s real estate division, specializing in high-risk subprime and commercial mortgages, until the bubble burst on the housing market and the investment bank went belly-up in September 2008. Even so, Walsh was paid $70 million in the three years before the nation’s economic collapse.
In 2016, Hamamoto merged his NorthStar real estate and assets management companies with the investment management firm Colony Capital, headed by Trump confidante Thomas Barrack, in what was supposed to produce a real estate investment trust valued at $9 billion. The venture sank soon after, but Hamamoto managed to make $27 million selling off his shares. He told industry analysts in August that DiamondPeak looked at “hundreds of companies” before choosing to invest in Lordstown Motors because the company “stood out” as a leader in the manufacture of electric vehicles and light-duty trucks.
Burns will likely need every bit of DiamondPeak’s capital reserves to convert the Lordstown plant from making a traditional compact car like the Cruze to an innovative electric pickup truck worthy of the hype. Lordstown’s other financial backers include General Motors, which is investing $75 million into the company, as well as Burns’s previous Loveland-based startup, Workhorse Group. Together, these investors are expected to pour $675 million into the new company by year’s end.
After more than a year of pursuing investors, Burns and Lordstown Motors now appear to have the financial backing they need to make a go of it, says Sam Abuelsamid, a principal analyst specializing in electric vehicles for Guidehouse Insights. “Whether they’re going to be successful is another story,” says Abuelsamid. “Lordstown Motors really has a big challenge ahead. They’re coming into a very competitive market for electric pickups in the next year and a half.”
If the merger with DiamondPeak proceeds as planned, Lordstown will hire about 600 employees to start building the Endurance. Burns told The Detroit Free Press in August that he plans to build 20,000 vehicles in the first year and, starting in 2022, hire more people to build other electric vehicles, possibly SUVs or a mid-size pickup. In a teleconference with industry analysts that same month, Burns said the merger will allow Lordstown to at least break even by 2022, the first full year of production. By 2024, he said, he expects the company to manufacture 100,000 vehicles and turn a 10 percent profit.
Burns has pushed back the startup date for production multiple times, from late 2020 to early 2021 and most recently to mid-2021. But the earlier the better, Abuelsamid says, if Lordstown wants to emerge a step ahead of its competitors. Although the pandemic-induced recession may end up disrupting the best-laid plans, the field of companies promising to deliver electric pickup trucks over the next three years includes GM, Ford, Tesla, Irvine, California–based startup Rivian, and Phoenix-based startup Nikola Motors.
Automakers and investors are convinced that the lower operating costs and spine-mashing acceleration of electric motors will persuade America’s pickup truck owners to give up their beloved gas guzzlers for what Burns has called “the new normal.” Wall Street is a big believer. Investors are sinking their money into electric pickup companies with a zeal perhaps surpassed only by those pinning their hopes on an effective vaccine for COVID-19. Rivian alone has seen a cash influx of more than $5 billion since the beginning of 2019, including $500 million from Ford and $700 million from Amazon, which plans to use Rivian’s trucks for its delivery fleet.
Tesla’s publicity-savvy CEO Elon Musk has already built predictable anticipation around the company’s new Cybertruck, production of which is slated to begin in late 2022. And even though GM is investing in Lordstown Motors, the Big Three automaker has its own plans for an electric Hummer and full-sized electric Chevy pickup for the consumer market. With an eye to introducing 20 different electric vehicles by 2023, GM is partnering with LG Chem to build a $2.3 billion battery plant in Lordstown, not far from the auto plant.
Meanwhile, Ford is developing an electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup while also partnering with Rivian, which plans to introduce an electric pickup in summer 2021 (about the same time as Lordstown Motors) that boasts a 400-mile range. Not to be outdone, Nikola touts its Badger electric pickup, to be produced in 2022, as “unlike anything on the market,” with a 600-mile range and an awe-inspiring 906 peak horsepower.
Burns has repeatedly told the media that the Endurance’s “in-hub” electric motors will give it a distinct advantage over its competitors. Rather than a single motor riding over an axle, each wheel of the Endurance will have its own built-in motor, generating 600 horsepower from all four wheels. By comparison, the Dodge Ram’s much-vaunted 5.7-liter Hemi V8 supplies less than 400 horsepower, with about one quarter of the Endurance’s fuel efficiency (an average of 18 miles per gallon). In August, Fiat Chrysler announced it will start making a 700-horsepower version of its gasoline-powered Ram pickup for those who might fear for their manhood against the emerging electric competition. And given that each wheel of the Endurance has its own power source, the truck is less likely to get stuck in mud or snow.
Lordstown Motors purchased the rights to its hub motor design from Workhorse Group, Burns’s previous startup, in exchange for 10 percent ownership of Lordstown and 1 percent of its future gross sales. But perhaps more crucial to its future, Workhorse has been promised the use of part of the massive Lordstown plant to manufacture its own electric vehicles.
Workhorse is one of three finalists vying for a $6.3 billion contract from the U.S. Postal Service to replace its aging fleet of gas-powered delivery trucks with electric ones. An announcement on the 180,000-vehicle deal is expected by the end of the year, and the arrangement to use the Lordstown plant makes Workhorse a serious contender. While the Loveland company’s 250,000-square-foot factory in Union City, Indiana, would be hard-pressed to meet the contract’s demands, Lordstown’s sprawling plant has more than 24 times the capacity.
Lordstown Motors says it already has 27,000 pre-orders for the Endurance, primarily from commercial fleet owners, a market that Burns knows well from his years at Workhorse Group, which he founded in 2007. But while Burns headed up Workhorse, it lost nearly $150 million from its inception in 2007 to his departure in 2019 and produced fewer than 400 vehicles. In an e-mail, Workhorse Executive Vice President Daniel Zito said such performance is not unusual for a startup in an industry “that is capital-intensive and requires significant volume to lower its component acquisition costs. Workhorse was still in the process of raising vehicle volume during Steve’s tenure.”
Before the end of the year, Workhorse hopes to deliver another 300 to 400 of the 1,000 electric vehicles promised to UPS since mid-2018, Workhorse CEO Duane Hughes announced over the summer. But two other innovative ideas Burns developed at Workhorse have yet to get off the ground, including the SureFly personal helicopter, a two-person flyable drone with a 75-mile radius, and HorseFly, a roof-mounted drone aimed at multiplying the delivery capabilities of UPS trucks. After a year of looking for potential buyers, Workhorse sold both designs late last year to the design and manufacturing firm Moog, based in New York. Moog paid $4 million to pick up the assets and liabilities for SureFly and, as part of the deal, became a joint partner with Workhorse in further development of HorseFly.
For years prior to his departure from Workhorse, Burns had also been looking to build an electric pickup truck. So when GM announced the closure of the Lordstown plant in November 2018, he saw the stars align. Workhorse’s innovative truck technology could be combined with the industrial capacity of an already existing auto plant—one that was at the center of a national media storm after Trump blasted GM in a series of tweets for abandoning the plant and its 1,700 employees.
The shutdown gave Burns the opportunity to capitalize on the national attention by luring investors and tapping into the region’s idled supply of skilled workers. Burns left his CEO position at Workhorse in February 2019 and started looking for partners and investors. By November of last year, GM had made a deal with Burns to sell the shuttered plant for $20 million along with a $40 million loan toward the cost of conversion.
Burns has said he will work with union labor at Lordstown and pay wages comparable to those of the Big Three automakers, about $31 an hour. His announcement last November came just two weeks after the United Auto Workers signed a new contract with GM following a 40-day strike. The union failed to get GM to keep the factory open, but it garnered substantial pay increases and bonuses and a promise that GM would invest $9 billion in its U.S. factories. The Chevy Cruze, another small-car victim of America’s preference for roomier vehicles like SUVs, will continue to be made outside the U.S.
Trump was quick to jump on the sale of the Lordstown plant with a pair of self-congratulating tweets. “GREAT NEWS FOR OHIO! Just spoke to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who informed me that, subject to a UAW agreement etc., GM will be selling their beautiful Lordstown Plant to Workhorse, where they plan to build Electric Trucks. GM will also be spending $700,000,000 in Ohio. . .in 3 separate locations, creating another 450 jobs. I have been working nicely with GM to get this done. Thank you to Mary B, your GREAT Governor, and Senator Rob Portman. With all the car companies coming back, and much more, THE USA IS BOOMING!”
Did Trump and the Ohio GOP help with the sale of the plant? Burns, a Trump supporter, certainly wasn’t going to dampen Trump’s enthusiasm. Besides, Trump’s tweets were enough to double Workhorse’s stock value overnight. Hailed as the savior of Lordstown, Burns soon became the subject of a story in The New York Times that was more skeptical, pointing out Workhorse’s troubling financial history and calling Burns “a corporate cipher.”
But among his family, friends, and a small group of Cincinnati investors, Burns’s reputation for innovation and can-do persistence has inspired loyalty and confidence. “Steve has a way of always finding a way no matter what the challenge,” says Joe Lukens, a friend of Burns and one of his long-time financial backers. “That’s why I’ve always had to invest in him. There’s no ‘no’ in his vocabulary. He’ll be juggling 20 different things that don’t make it to the end, but that 21st thing will.”
Burns graduated from Archbishop Moeller High School in 1977 before going on to Ohio State University and earning a degree in electrical engineering. The father of five lives with his family in Maineville. Burns first made his mark as a software entrepreneur, launching a startup for handling the digital flow of newspaper classified ads. The company was purchased by media giant Gannett, owner of The Cincinnati Enquirer, in 1994.
Workhorse’s Zito worked with Burns in their early days at Gannett and beyond. “If Steve sees a niche [in the market] that people aren’t serving, he acts quickly to figure out a way to be a leader in that niche,” he says.
One of those niches Burns saw early on was voice recognition technology. In 2004, he created a startup called MobileVoiceControl—a predecessor to Siri back in the days when people were still chatting on Blackberries. Burns sold the company a year later to Massachusetts-based Nuance Communications, which then used some of his patents to create Siri for Apple. Burns and Zito continued to work for Nuance for several years, even though Burns’s real passion lay elsewhere.
Zito remembers the two of them “sitting side-by-side in our cubicles at Nuance Communications, probably around 2005 or so, and Steve sits back in his chair and he says, Dan, I’m going to start an electric vehicle company. And I said, What!? That had been his dream for a while. I don’t know where it started.”
The leap from developing software to manufacturing electric trucks is not as dramatic as many people might think, Zito says. “What underlies [electric] vehicles is software” that controls starting and stopping the motor and regulating the flow of energy from the batteries, he says. “If you think about it, modern cars and trucks are computer rigs running around on four wheels.”
Burns left Nuance in 2007 to start AMP, which first specialized in converting conventional vehicles from gas to electric power. But by adding $25,000 for the conversion to the price tag of a $50,000 luxury car, AMP failed to find enough takers to be profitable. Burns then got a break in 2010 when Navistar, a Chicago-based manufacturer of mostly diesel trucks with a plant in Springfield, went looking for a partner to build electric vehicles for UPS. Burns came on board with AMP, later acquiring Navistar’s Workhorse truck brand and changing his company name to Workhorse Group. In 2016, UPS ordered more than 300 trucks from the Indiana plant Workhorse acquired from Navistar.
An investor in Burns’s earlier startups, including MobileVoiceControl, Lukens owned 13 percent of Lordstown Motors as of May of last year, according to The New York Times. Burns and Lukens are both Moeller grads—the football standout was two years behind Burns— but the two didn’t get to know each other until their sons played on the same soccer team at St. Margaret of York in Loveland. Lukens is best known in Cincinnati as the former president of Neace Lukens, one of the city’s largest insurance agencies, which he sold in 2011.
Lukens says he’s confident that Burns will make a success of his plans for converting the Lordstown plant. But in a May 2019 story in The New York Times, he questioned whether Burns was the right person to run Lordstown Motors. “At some point in time, the company needs to be handed over to an operational person,” Lukens told the paper. Lukens says he doesn’t remember making the comment.
While at Workhorse, Burns had a habit of hiring relatives and friends as his top executives, which several former employees say led to favoritism and a lack of professionalism. “Friends and family company ran [sic] by delirious and unprofessional individuals,” a former project engineer wrote in an anonymous company review on Indeed.com. Another former engineer posted on the same website: “The place is a joke. If you [are] part of the family, you have a secure job. If not, you could be thrown out like trash at any moment.”
But Zito doesn’t think hiring people you know is necessarily a liability. “It really reduces the number of unpleasant surprises,” he says. “We think it’s an asset to find people who are like-minded and fit in with us.”
Burns has brought many of the same people from Workhorse to fill key positions at Lordstown Motors, including the new company’s chief operating officer; human resources officer; manufacturing engineer; and marketing manager, his daughter Brittney. At the same time, though, he has also pulled in two recruits with General Motors experience (chief engineer and human resources director) and a new chief production officer with experience at Tesla. The new company maintains offices across the street from Workhorse headquarters in Loveland.
Burns has touted the acquisition of the old GM plant as a key advantage for his new company in beating competitors to the market. But auto industry analysts are less optimistic. “GM has likely already removed some of the valuable equipment from the plant and transferred it to other GM locations,” says Arun Kumar, managing director in the Chicago office of AlixPartners, a worldwide consulting firm. “The power train assembly for electric vehicles, which is very different from the ones used for internal combustion engines, will require significant new investments” for new equipment and converted space.
But with the promise of $675 million for making Burns’s dream of an electric pickup come true, long-time partner Zito says the odds of succeeding are in Burns’s favor. “I think that everything is there to be successful,” he says. “I think the funding is there. The plant is certainly there. And the willingness to work hard is there. If anybody can do it, I think Steve can.”
Every year, there are certain holiday traditions my family looks forward to. The holiday show at Krohn Conservatory is always at the top of the list. Between the enchanting trains, colorful Christmas trees, and festive flowers, Krohn Conservatory is transformed into something magical each year.
This year’s event, A Very Merry Garden Holiday, is an exuberant celebration of the season, and a must-visit attraction for families. It’s a bright and beautiful bow tied on a year that’s been anything but.
As always, you’ll find the conservatory’s main showroom transformed into a wonderful, whimsical winter wonderland. It’s a total sensory experience complete with fragrant foliage, vibrant poinsettias, and cheerful locomotives chugging all around.
As in years past, A Very Merry Garden Holiday celebrates Cincinnati’s proud German heritage, with exquisitely detailed depictions of local landmarks. Once again, Applied Imagination has created a world unto itself, carving beautiful replicas of iconic buildings, all out of natural materials. Kids will have fun recognizing all the familiar places, like the Mt. Airy Treehouse, the Taft Museum, and even the Krohn Conservatory building (how’s that for a meta-moment?).
Of course, for kids, the trains are the main event—and they don’t disappoint. Younger kids will immediately recognize Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, and delight in the long cargo trains in tracks running every which way. There’s a lot to take in, and luckily, Krohn Conservatory is a place you always want to stay and enjoy.
A Very Merry Garden Holiday at Krohn Conservatory is open daily through Jan. 10, 2021. A few COVID-19 precautions of note: All guests will have temperatures taken upon arrival, masks are required for anyone over the age of 6 (with some exceptions), and online ticket sales are encouraged.
The holiday season is upon us, and Christmas will be here before you know it! This year especially, we could all use an extra dose of holiday cheer. Whether you go for a familiar favorite or want to try something new, get your family in the spirit with these festive activities around town.
Water Wonderland with scuba Santa-Newport Aquarium
Deck the halls underwater this season at The Newport Aquarium. The aquarium is decorated with holiday lights and festive music plays throughout your visit. Elves will also be walking around for the kids to meet, and of course, scuba Santa will be swimming with sharks and ready to hear Christmas wish lists. Nov. 27-Dec. 24. General Admission for adults is $25.99 for children $17.99
Coney Island-Christmas Nights of Lights
This Christmas light display is the perfect event to visit during this time of social distancing. Brought to you from the comfort of your car, this is an ideal event to safely celebrate the holidays with the people in your household. The light show synchronizes to a radio station that plays Christmas music as you drive by over a million lights on display. Nov. 6-Jan. 9, 2021. Free admission.
Santa’s Workshop at Washington Park
Santa and his elves will make an appearance at Washington Park this year, tinkering away in their workshop on ornaments and other gifts. Have your kids make their Christmas lists with the elves so they can tell Santa when they take a photo with him. You can even bring your dog to join this family holiday adventure! Nov. 28-Dec. 19. Free admission, you must bring your own camera for photos.
PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
The PNC Festival of Lights is a classic Cincinnati event for the holidays, and you don’t want to miss it this year! Rated the best zoo-lights festival in the country, this family-friendly event is back with four million lights, the North Polar Express train ride, Santa visits, and more. Nov. 21-Jan. 3, 2021. Reservations are required. Ticket prices vary day-to-day: children $7-$15.50, adults $12-$21.50, seniors $7-$15.50.
Ice Rink at Fountain Square
Tis the season for ice skating! Fountain Square’s ice rink is back with a twist this year with full- and split-ice sessions where half of the rink is reserved for skating and the other half is dedicated to bumper cars! Each rink session includes 60 minutes on the ice. Nov. 7-Feb. 15, 2021. Reservations are required. Tickets are $15 per person for split-ice sessions, which includes unlimited bumper car rides for 60 minutes. $10 per person for full-ice skating sessions.
The Nutcracker at the Cincinnati Ballet
The Nutcracker goes virtual this year. Music Hall presents the holiday classic reimagined by Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. The hour-long performance follows the familiar tale of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince that you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. This event is free. Details about viewing times are to be announced on the Cincinnati Ballet website.
Christmas Town at the Creation Museum
Celebrate the holidays with a live nativity and petting zoo at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Enjoy a synthetic ice rink, festive goodies, shopping, and botanical gardens decked out in thousands of lights to walk through. Wed-Sun from Nov. 27 through Dec. 20 and every evening from Dec. 21-30. Admission is free, and skating is $7.99 a person.
Christmas Journey at EnterTRAINment Junction
Choo! Choo! Home to the world’s largest indoor model railroad display, EnterTRAINment Junction’s popular holiday train displays are back in season. You and your family can venture through a winter wonderland that leads to the reindeer stables and elf workshop. Finish your trip by visiting Mrs. Claus, hard at work in her kitchen, and enjoy a private video chat with Santa. Nov. 21-Dec. 31. General admission is free. Train Journey tickets: child $11.95, adult $14.95, senior $11.95