Sweets & Meats Co-Owner Kristen Bailey Has Service in Her Blood

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Illustration by Marcello Crescenzi

Sweets & Meats isn’t just about making money for Kristen Bailey. It’s also a way for her to give back to the community. We sat down with the Mt. Washington native to talk about supporting her neighborhood, winning a prestigious business award, and working 19 hour shifts—while loving every second of it.

Why start a BBQ business?
It was more or less a passion project. [Co-owner and nine-year partner] Anton and I truly believe barbecue brings people together. Anton has always loved to cook, so we got our first smoker in 2012, and he learned…by calling his grandfather from Sylacauga, Alabama, and he remembers his grandfather would make smokers out of steel drums. The amount of prep that goes into it—the amount of love that goes into it—it’s like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, but we do it every day.

How far has Sweets & Meats come since you started?
We literally started with an 8-foot table and a smoker in a parking lot, and we grew to having a food truck, then we got the restaurant. Now we have two food trucks. We’ve done that all in four years, and we’ve had over 30 percent growth every single year.

That must be how you won the Small Business Administration’s Ohio Small Business Person of the Year.
For all the winners, it has to do with your growth and service to your community. I’m on the board for the Local School Decision Making Committee at Mt. Washington Elementary, where I actually went to school. It’s not just about making money for us. It’s the community aspect. That’s why we chose to open in Mt. Washington—[it’s] not the best location for us [business-wise], but we did it because it’s our neighborhood; it’s a way for us to give back to our community, for us to bring our neighbors together.

You work closely with your employees. Does that create a family feel?
You spend more time with the people you work with than your own family. One of the gentlemen training to be a pitmaster with us was a culinary intern with us back in 2015, before we even had the food truck. He’s actually staying with us in our house, and he’s working with us full time so he can get on his feet. He’s like our son. That’s the atmosphere we have.

Do you get that sense of family from the barbecue community outside Sweets & Meats, as well?
I think barbecue is unique in that sense, because even when I go to competitions, it’s all love. The first competition, people invited us onto their trailer; they were showing us how to make rub, how to do injections, because we were in over our heads. Cincinnati has this unique [mixture] of all of these barbecue styles. This place is, in my opinion, on the radar to be the next Kansas City or Memphis.

You’re working long hours on this food truck. Where did your work ethic come from?
My mom. [She] was a single parent, raised both me and my sister, who is special needs. She went to nursing school to take better care of my sister. She was [also] a manager at LaRosa’s for 15 years. I remember being young, going in and helping her out, basically hugging her pants as she went out to serve…. I remember I went to my mom at 12 years old and said I wanted to get a job. My mom did everything she could for us. We never went without, but I knew, financially, it was difficult to raise two kids on her own. My mom took me to local places, helped me fill out job applications, really encouraged me, and it was because I wanted to help. [She] passed last year. I learned everything I know from watching her.

What does the future look like for you?
We would love to have a sit-down restaurant, but I don’t think we’re ready for it yet. Because we’ve grown rapidly, we kind of need to catch our breath to make sure we can maintain the two trucks. I don’t want to risk everything to grow too quickly. But I’m passionate about what we do. Before, I worked in banking for 15 years out of college. I would never work at the bank 19 hours a day [like I do here.] There were days I would pull into the bank parking lot and I was crying before I went to work. Now? It’s such an adrenaline rush. I truly love what I do.

Sweets & Meats BBQ, 2249 Beechmont Ave., Suite B, Mt. Washington, (513) 888-4227

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