The restaurant industry has been hard hit by the pandemic, of course. With no clear path through Ohio’s and Kentucky’s official COVID response, these three Cincinnati restaurateurs made tough decisions to ensure they’d be able to serve another day.
Chef Jordan Anthony-Brown was set for a summer 2020 opening of The Aperture in Walnut Hills’s Paramount Square redevelopment. But about a month before construction started, COVID put the project on hold. He pivoted by serving Mediterranean-by-way-of-Appalachia cuisine at a few pop-ups over the course of the year, but the constraints were real. “Not having space to cook was probably the most difficult thing,” he says. “Even if I wanted to do takeout options over the summer, I just didn’t have the space to do it.” With hope finally in sight, though, Anthony-Brown eyes an Aperture opening later this year.
“I figured, If I don’t have the money now, I sure won’t have the time to pay it later,” says Jeremy Lieb, cofounder (with his wife, Bridget) of Over-the-Rhine’s Sacred Beast. “So we laid off 42 people and went to work.” The Liebs and their two children created Beast Mart during the height of the pandemic, a makeshift bodega selling supplies like toothpaste and toilet paper for curbside pickup, alongside meal kits. They also led the charge on outdoor dining, closing 15th Street at Vine, which the city eventually made permanent with its “streateries” initiative. “You have to be positive,” says Lieb. “It’s a bummer, but you have to be ready to move and shake.”
For a while, it seemed like only an act of God would stop the momentum of Chef Ryan Santos and Please, which Cincinnati Magazine named the No. 1 local restaurant last year. Then, COVID. After pausing and cooking in homes when opportunities arose, Santos reopened Please in December for private dining, offering beverages and a $1,000 tasting menu for up to eight people. “I didn’t intend to reopen in any capacity,” he says, “but after nine months of little support for the restaurant industry, I was left with no choice but to figure out a way to reopen in the best and safest way we could.”