Brandon Martin and Anthony Notaro know what it’s like to be starving artists: they were in a not-so prosperous band together during their freshman year at Xavier University. Fortunately, they weren’t literally starving—just hungry for success. Ten years and some business education later, the pair has teamed up again to create Starving Artist Hospitality, and their culinary future looks brighter than their old band’s.
After bopping around the arts scene, the two found themselves working in corporate America. Notaro worked at a tech startup in Phoenix and Martin worked at an artificial intelligence firm in New York. “Sitting behind a desk and making cold calls was not really an avenue of happiness for either one of us,” says Martin, Starving Artist’s CEO. “We were starving for a new opportunity.”
Martin moved back to Cincinnati in 2018 and worked his way up the ranks from busboy to bar manager at Taft’s Ale House. When Notaro left his job in 2020 and came back to the Queen City soon after, he and Martin regrouped and finalized plans for their business.
For their pop-up events, Starving Artist plans to collaborate with local eateries to present a menu highlighting a cuisine that’s different from what the host restaurant traditionally serves. The restaurant’s front of house and kitchen staff will operate as normal, but Notaro will be in the kitchen prepping and cooking the meals.
“The idea is to go into a place, create hype, create an event, and help bring people into an existing place with an existing staff, and work together,” says Notaro, the group’s executive chef, who’s also the sous chef at Lonely Pine Steakhouse in Pleasant Ridge.
They host their first pop-up event—which is already sold out—this weekend at the Overlook Kitchen + Bar at The Summit Hotel in Madisonville. The prix-fixe, three-course menu is inspired by Phoenician cuisine, drawing on Notaro’s time in Arizona. The menu combines American and French culinary techniques with a Mexican infusion.
Diners will be treated to a variety of dishes, including a winter kale salad with radish, cotija cheese, and blood orange. The menu also features mahi-mahi with blue corn grits prepared with locally sourced blue corn hominy from Tortilleria Garcia, a Mexican restaurant with several locations in town.
Starving Artist plans to develop three to six pop-up events this year. However, their plans are contingent on pandemic-related issues like the ability to find partners with proper COVID-19 precautions.
“We need to find partners, like we have here at The Summit, that take [the pandemic] really seriously because we have no interest in putting anyone in danger,” Martin says. “It makes us feel a lot safer, inviting people into a space where we know they’re going to be taken care of.”
In terms of the future, the organization is interested in opening a commissary kitchen and, eventually, a restaurant. But for now, Martin says they have already met one main achievement: “We have both said, ‘We’re not going back to corporate America.’ This is the goal. This is the idea. This is where we would rather be.”