After nearly three years in the making, the Oakley Kitchen Food Hall is set to open next month. The something-for-everyone setup—part dining space, part retail space, part production space, and part event space—has been in the works since at least summer 2018, and its founders are eying an April open date, which largely depends on final approvals coming through.
When the food hall does open, it will feature 10 vendors offering a wide range of cuisine. There’s Jimmie Lou’s and its New Orleans cuisine classics, and La Petite Frite with its Belgian comfort food. There’s also Olive Tree, specializing in Mediterranean fare, and Onolicious Hawaii (yes, classic Hawaiian cuisine). Mike Stankovich, of Longfellow Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine, will be operating and managing Oakley’s bar, The Cutaway, complete with specially curated craft cocktails and bottles of wine and beer.
“One of the things we identified in Cincinnati is that we have great incubators and a couple of community kitchens to get entrepreneurs going, but the city lacked a place for them to take the next step,” says Tyler Martin, one of Oakley Kitchen’s founding partners. “We wanted to create that.”
Diners will be able to carry out their meals or have a seat in the 10,000-square-foot event space upstairs as long as it’s not being rented out for an event. With so much space, upstairs dining is ideal for socially distanced seating, points out Elias Leisring, another Oakley Kitchen founding partner, whose Eli’s BBQ will also be an Oakley Kitchen resident.
In addition to the food hall’s restaurant vendor is Campfire Foods, a consumer packaged goods business. The idea is that Oakley Kitchen vendors will be able to distribute their products through Campfire Foods, which currently distributes Eli’s BBQ product through Kroger and other distribution channels. At Oakley Kitchen, those packaged products will be for sale right on the food hall floor. So if people love the falafel, they can purchase it from the vendor for lunch on-site, and they can pick up some hummus and tabbouleh to-go from the merchandiser, and then they can find those products in Kroger, thanks to Campfire Foods’s distribution.
“We’re trying to incubate those businesses as well as accelerate those businesses,” Leisring says. Plus, the format gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow and develop their businesses without the overheard of a solo storefront, Martin says.
While isn’t open yet, some of its vendors are running pickup and delivery specials from their other locations, which are promoted on Oakley Kitchen’s Facebook page. For example, Parts & Labor promoted a Valentine’s Day popup at Oakley Wines, and Eli’s BBQ promoted its own Valentine’s Day special.
When the kitchen is up and running, Leisring says, he imagines live music, with customers walking and biking up. “I’m excited to bring something fresh to Oakley that gives somebody a lot of different choices,” he adds. “I think that’s what people love about food halls to begin with.”