The Benefactor

    His first restaurant (Jean-Robert at Pigall’s) was a virtual gift to the city and he helped save a beloved Cincinnati icon (Rookwood Pottery) from oblivion. So how come Martin Wade isn’t feeling the love?
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    On Monday, August 1, anyone who had a notion to brave the blistering heat and stroll down Vine Street to lunch at The Bistro would have been disappointed; a sign in the window said the restaurant would be closed all week for cleaning, painting, and menu development—and also, the sign cheerfully noted, for spending “much needed & well deserved time with family and friends!”

    That afternoon employees learned that they would, indeed, have plenty of time for family and friends; owner Martin Wade was closing the restaurant for good. It would surprise none of them: The long room with the lime-green walls, which had regularly hosted more than 200 people on weekend evenings, now was lucky to serve a few dozen, and Wade says the restaurant had lost $120,000 this year alone. Three years ago Wade and acclaimed French chef Jean-Robert de Cavel had five restaurants in their culinary kingdom; The Bistro was the fourth to close, and perhaps the most wrenching. Though the elegant Jean-Robert at Pigall’s on Fourth Street had been the flagship of their gastronomic fleet, in many ways The Bistro (formerly JeanRo Bistro) had been its heart, a lively establishment and the group’s only moneymaker.

    The closing of The Bistro was seen as comeuppance by many of de Cavel’s supporters for how Wade had treated the chef, and it capped a long and difficult summer for Wade. In June he lost his final appeal over a non-compete clause that de Cavel had sued him over following their nasty business breakup. Rookwood Pottery, Wade’s other high-profile business venture, had also spent the previous few months in court and in the news. Chris Rose, Rookwood’s former CEO—whom Wade had fired after he bought the business—had also sued him and tried to force the iconic pottery company into bankruptcy. Wade has faced four other lawsuits in the past few years, all of them tied to either the restaurants or Rookwood, and he keeps copies of them stacked neatly in the corner of his Covington office. These filings form the paper trail of  his public image—an evolution from savior of two Cincinnati icons to a man at the center of many storms.

    How did Martin Wade go from the hero of Cincinnati’s downtown dining scene to what his critics call a “reverse Midas,” in whose hands businesses dissolve into a morass of arguments and lawsuits? In two lengthy interviews—the first in the spring of this year, the second on the day before the announcement of The Bistro’s closure, I talked with Wade about the tumult in his business affairs. At one point during our spring conversation, I asked why so many people were suing him. Wade, a wiry man who at 61 sports a head of striking silver-gray hair, pulled a pad of paper from his desk drawer, picked up a black marker, and slowly drew a large dollar sign. On July 30, when we spoke about the impending closure of The Bistro, he elaborated on that dollar sign.

    “Both de Cavel and Rose are pretty similar,” Wade said. “They were both very, very happy as long as they could pursue their dreams and as long as I was funding it. And they both threw a pout when I said we’re not going to the show anymore, we’re not having popcorn tonight, I’m not funding it anymore.”

    “Why am I the villain?” he continued. “The sad truth is [The Bistro closing] doesn’t affect me at all, but 130 people have lost their jobs [across all the restaurants he has closed]. It saddens me. We hear people say, ‘Don’t eat at any of the Wades’ restaurants, they’re making all this money.’ If we were making all this money, why would we close anything?”

    In my interviews with more than a dozen of Wade’s friends, enemies, employees, ex-employees, and associates, it became clear that money is a central issue in the conflicts over both the restaurants and the pottery company, though everyone has a different interpretation of exactly what that means. Wade’s critics—and he has plenty of them—say his business dealings and the lawsuits reveal a controlling man with little regard for how his decisions affect the people he employs. Wade’s supporters say he hasn’t done enough to defend himself from the claims, and they credit him with keeping roughly 250 people employed through the Great Recession.

    But there is also a curious pattern that emerges in these two high-profile ventures. Some wealthy people choose to invest in purely profit-making ventures, others in philanthropic ones. The projects that have landed Wade in the news so often over the past few years have been hybrids—ostensibly for-profit companies built around highly creative endeavors aimed at enhancing Cincinnati as a community. The people involved in them say they set out to make money, but also to produce something—top-notch dining experiences and internationally renowned art pottery—that transcends profit and improves the city’s reputation.

    Wade says he and his wife Marilyn choose their ventures based on three criteria: Are they going to have fun? Will it be good for the community? Can they avoid losing money on it? Or, as he puts it: “We hope we don’t lose money, which is entirely different than most people who say, ‘I’m going to make this investment because we want to make money.’”

    It’s easy to quantify if a company is profitable, and even possible to tell whether a philanthropy is meeting its goals. But evaluating whether a venture is helping a community, and whether the principals are content with its progress, is harder. As long as Rookwood and the restaurant group were meeting those criteria, everyone involved was happy. But when they began costing more and more money—when Wade began to feel less like a benefactor and more like a sugar daddy—that is when the troubles began.

    Wade likes to joke that he moved to Cincinnati in ’73 and his wife’s family arrived in ’72. Except that “mine’s 1973—hers is 1872,” he says.

    The quip is illuminating. Marilyn Scripps Wade is the great-granddaughter of E.W. Scripps, founder of the Scripps media empire, whose presence here does indeed date to the late 19th century. Martin Wade, a native of Springfield, Illinois, followed a girlfriend to town nearly 40 years ago and put down roots. Ken Heil, the owner of Barleycorn’s, has known Wade since his early days in town, and remembers him cleaning the hallways and taking out the garbage to help cover rent at the Clifton apartment complex where they both lived.

    Wade often fields phone calls from people asking him and his wife to get involved in projects and causes, and by all accounts the couple have long been quietly generous donors to nonprofits throughout the region—from the University of Cincinnati Foundation to the Ensemble Theatre to Women Helping Women. “They have been remarkably, incredibly generous to the agency at a time when we’ve needed money to keep it afloat,” says Kathy Davis, who has been both an employee and volunteer for Women Helping Women. “They said, ‘We don’t need to be thanked. That’s not why we do this.’ They don’t crave it, they don’t want it.” Though Wade ran for Cincinnati City Council twice in the early 1990s and worked as a CPA for 34 years, first for Peat Marwick and later for his own firm, the couple maintained a fairly low profile until a phone call from a friend led them to invest in the restaurant business.

    For years, Wade had counseled clients not to invest in restaurants, believing them to be too risky. But on July 4, 2000, Tom and Kathy Huff—clients and friends of Wade at the time—called from their vacation home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they were hosting de Cavel, then chef at the famous Maisonette restaurant. They told Wade that de Cavel wanted to leave Maisonette to open his own place. The Huffs planned to invest in de Cavel’s venture, and they eventually convinced the Wades to join them. “Part of our conversation was that if we don’t step up, the city will lose [de Cavel’s] talent,” Wade recalls. But a year later, the Huffs withdrew from the project, saying its price had climbed too high. The Wades were left as the sole investors in what became Jean-Robert at Pigall’s, and later the Jean-Robert French Restaurant Group, a small culinary kingdom that over time came to include Pigall’s, JeanRo Bistro, Pho Paris (later reincarnated as Chalk Food + Wine), Greenup Café, Lavomatic, and Twist.

    I contacted numerous ex-employees of Wade’s for this story and most declined to talk to me. Some were concerned about pending litigation; others about future employment. A few let critical observations—and occasionally raw hostility—escape before hanging up. A handful defended him. “He invests his money in areas of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky that no one else would touch,” says Mark Bodenstein, the last chef at Chalk. “He treated me very well. At the end of the day, he’s an investor and all investors want their money back.”

    Jean-Robert de Cavel did not return calls or e-mails for comment. His attorney, Robert Brown, who also loaned the chef money to start his new restaurant, said de Cavel was unlikely to comment because his lawsuit against Wade is still active. Brown, however, had no such hesitation. “I can’t think of anything printable I can say about Martin Wade,” he told me.

    People speak of the Wade–de Cavel relationship most often as a divorce. As in any divorce, there is pain, anger, and blame, along with the occasional memory of happier times. After the Huffs pulled out of the Pigall’s partnership, the Wades continued on, investing about $3 million to open the restaurant. The buildup to the 2002 opening was marred by delays and then immense sorrow when the infant daughter of de Cavel and his wife Annette died of SIDS. Wade delivered the eulogy at her funeral.

    “There was this extended period of togetherness. They were traveling the world, trying to figure out what the restaurant was going to be like,” remembers Mary Hemmer, a friend of both men—her husband, builder Paul Hemmer, was in Leadership Cincinnati with Wade—who tried to prevent an end to the de Cavel–Wade partnership. “The two couples were very devoted to each other and they continued to be after the restaurant opened. But there was so much pressure.”

    The restaurant was an immediate success, packed every night for the first few years; it was the only restaurant in Ohio, Indiana, or Kentucky to earn four stars from the Mobil Travel Guide. “For my wife and myself, it was our first gift to the city of Cincinnati,” Wade says. “We spared no expenses. There wasn’t another restaurant like Pigall’s between here and Chicago, between here and Atlanta. I cry when I think about it—it was an absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous restaurant.”

    Encouraged by the reception Pigall’s received, Wade and de Cavel opened JeanRo Bistro on Vine Street; then Pho Paris, a French-Vietnamese restaurant, in Oakley; then Greenup Café in Covington: too many, too fast, sniffed one of Wade’s former associates. “Frisch’s doesn’t do that. Wendy’s doesn’t do that.”

    Wade concedes in hindsight that the restaurants probably came too quickly. “At that time it made sense,” he says. “Things were going well, Jean-Robert was the hottest name in town.” However, problems began to surface in 2006, he says, when Pho Paris was hemorrhaging cash and the two were unable to agree on how to fix it. By February 2008, a year before Pigall’s closed, Wade felt the need to send de Cavel an e-mail detailing their growing estrangement.

    “I am tired of walking on eggshells when I am around you, never knowing when you are going to go in one of your rants,” Wade wrote. “Jean-Robert, you have taken the fun out of this venture for Marilyn and me. Our life is too short and we don’t need this…I want you to be happy—if you are not happy here, please leave. If you do not like Cincinnati, please move. If you do not like what you are doing, please change.” Wade concluded by offering de Cavel and his wife a three-month paid leave of absence to figure out their future. De Cavel didn’t take him up on the offer; instead, the chef went to attorney Robert Brown to try to address the deteriorating relationship.

    Though the pair opened Lavomatic in the Gateway Quarter in 2008, confidants noticed the change between the two men; later that year, when the Wades bought the historic German bar Grammer’s, de Cavel wasn’t included in their plans for it. Then the recession set in, taking its toll on the entire restaurant business and creating added tension. Many staffers were devoted to de Cavel and his vision and saw Wade as “the numbers guy.” One former waiter at Pigall’s remembers a note posted the winter before the restaurant closed informing the staff that the 25 percent discount they’d previously enjoyed at all the group’s restaurants had been terminated. Someone scrawled at the bottom, “Merry Christmas, Martin Wade.”

    In early 2009, Wade announced that Pigall’s would close at the end of that February. De Cavel owned a 20 percent stake in that restaurant and three others, but he had also signed a non-compete agreement that prevented him from opening a restaurant within 120 miles of Cincinnati for a year after leaving the group. Assuming that that year began when Pigall’s closed, de Cavel made plans to open a new place three blocks north of JeanRo Bistro in spring 2010. Wade asserted the year had not yet begun because de Cavel had never signed over his 20 percent ownership of Pigall’s. Friends of the two men tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a settlement. Wade says his offer was simple: “I sat down with de Cavel and said, ‘If you sign over your entities and sign over your liquor license I will waive the non-compete and I’ll forget about the memorabilia’”—originally owned by de Cavel and used to decorate JeanRo Bistro. “All I wanted was my partnerships back and my liquor license back.”

    In December 2009, after extended attempts at mediation failed, de Cavel filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the non-compete agreement.

    In the proceedings, de Cavel’s attorneys argued that the business details of the restaurant had been Wade’s responsibility and that he had taken advantage of de Cavel, saddling him with unexpected tax burdens and jeopardizing his credit through unpaid debts. They also said Wade had used the restaurant’s bank account as a sort of ATM to pay for personal wine purchases (Wade says he reimbursed the restaurant on such occasions), and that funds were transferred back and forth between the restaurant business and Wade’s real estate accounts. Wade countered that he and his wife had lost $6 million in the restaurant business and they weren’t willing to lose any more. Judge Steven Martin decided that the terms of the non-compete agreement had been met, and in August 2010, de Cavel’s new restaurant, Jean-Robert’s Table, opened.

    “It was like family members being hurt by one another,” Mary Hemmer recalls. “For a man like Jean-Robert, his passion for food is truly an art form. And Martin recognized the importance of a four-star restaurant for the city. I don’t think they were prepared for all the naysayers, interlopers, people who were very caustic—you can find them in any organization, people who bring things down rather than up. There were many people who didn’t value or protect the personal relationship.”

    Wade echoes Hemmer’s elegiac tones in recalling his time with de Cavel. “Do I wish it would have turned out differently?”  he asks. “Of course, of course. But it didn’t. Is he to blame? Am I to blame? Are we both to blame? Who knows? It’s easy to pick sides, but when you stand back and be objective you probably say, ‘They’re both to blame.’ ”

    Through his lawyer, de Cavel claims Wade still has possession of artwork and memorabilia the chef used to decorate JeanRo Bistro; Wade says those items were contributed to the business by the chef. Wade also says that he is still waiting for de Cavel to sign over his 20 percent ownership in four restaurants—Pigall’s, JeanRo Bistro, Greenup Café, and Chalk. And Wade’s troubles with former restaurant employees go beyond de Cavel’s lawsuit. About a dozen Pigall’s waiters sued him not long after the restaurant closed, alleging he’d improperly used money from their tip pool to pay for salaries and expenses; that lawsuit was settled earlier this year. Former Pigall’s maître d’ Richard Brown also sued Wade in small-claims court over a salary dispute and won.

    With Pigall’s gone and Jean-Robert’s Table open for more than a year, isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones? Perhaps. But Robert Brown says de Cavel is preparing additional legal action to regain the memorabilia and iron out the business details of the breakup. And Wade says he is still reminded daily how much money has gone down the drain because of his restaurants: He keeps a chart in his office bathroom detailing the losses.

    Wade’s involvement in Rookwood Pottery began much as his foray into the restaurant business did: with a phone call.

    Founded in 1880 as a pottery club by Maria Longworth Nichols, Rookwood had reached its peak in the 1920s, and its vintage pieces of art pottery still fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Though the Rookwood name remains known throughout the world, the company fell on hard times in the second half of the 20th century and never quite recovered. It eventually declared bankruptcy and ceased production in 1967. In 1982, a Michigan-based dentist and collector by the name of Arthur Townley bought the company and began producing small numbers of pieces to maintain original trademarks. In 2006, Townley agreed to sell the company to a Cincinnati-based industrial designer and brand consultant named Chris Rose, Rose’s brother, and another man for $1.6 million, interest-free. As the company organized and prepared to launch production, it sought additional investors; in 2007, with a reported investment of $1 million in cash, Martin Wade became one of the two largest shareholders in the company. The other was Chris Rose.

    The Scripps family had some history with Rookwood—Marilyn Wade’s great-aunt had commissioned a Rookwood artist named Albert Valentien in a decade-long project to paint all of California’s wildflowers. The paintings were never published, but the Wades had been struck by a Rookwood display at the Lodge at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California, crediting her family’s support of the artist. When Chris Rose contacted them, they decided to invest in the company. “Growing up in Cincinnati you just know about Rookwood,” Marilyn Wade wrote me in an e-mail. “If someone has it in their home they show you. You see it at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It’s part of our cultural heritage. We just want to make sure that legacy is preserved for future generations.” The company built a production facility in Over-the-Rhine, in a building Wade purchased. The Wades’ investment in the company to date is estimated at more than $5 million in cash and loan guarantees.

    When the recession kicked into high gear in 2008, it dealt a blow to the fledgling business. Then, late in 2009, Chris Rose’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, which required him to spend time away from the company to care for her. By late 2010, the company had fallen behind in its repayment to Arthur Townley and the Townley family was threatening to sue. In the midst of Rose’s negotiations with Townley, TINC, LLC—a limited liability company controlled by Wade—bought the note and became Rookwood’s owner. That was in early December 2010; three weeks later, according to Rose, Wade told him he was removing him as Rookwood’s president and CEO.

    It was a step that had to be taken, Wade insists, and he says the experience with the restaurants convinced him to move sooner rather than later. “Chris Rose has many talents but running a company is not one of them, and he wasn’t willing to move aside to put someone in there who could run the company,” he says. “Had we not continued to fund this company in the last year it would be closed.”

    Rose says that he and Wade had talked about a new position for him within the company, but Rose argued that a new CEO would give an impression of instability when the company was trying to attract investors. Rose draws parallels, in his lawsuit and in an interview, between Wade’s actions in the Rookwood case and his dealings with de Cavel. Like the chef, Rose says, he was the primary person associated with the brand and its chief evangelist. Rose says Wade failed to understand the importance of his involvement, while he in turn failed to recognize Wade’s intentions for the company. “It went pretty decently at first,” Rose says. “When everything started going south with Jean-Robert was when I got really concerned.”

    Rose says Wade’s purchase of the Townley note took him by surprise, as did his firing a few weeks later. He regrets his initial phone call seeking the couple’s investment. “Wade’s money wasn’t the only money out there,” he says. “I [reached out to the Wades] because I thought they cared about the arts. I put years and years into this and to throw people out on the street—to not even give them back their personal belongings—to do what they did is just so wrong.”

    In March, Rose filed a lawsuit arguing that Wade, as an officer of the company, was wrong to approach Townley and buy the note when he should have been acting in the company’s best interests. Wade’s attorneys maintained that a limited liability corporation purchased the Townley note, not Wade; that Rookwood lacked the money to buy the note; and that the purchase of the note saved the company from the Townleys’ lawsuit and probable foreclosure.

    Rose and several other creditors also tried to force Rookwood into involuntary bankruptcy in the spring as an attempt to prevent Wade from auctioning off the company’s assets to a different Wade-owned company—a sale that would allow Rookwood to gain relief from some of its debts. In addition, Rose and his allies presented Wade with a notice demanding Wade’s removal and Rose’s reinstatement as head of the company—a notice that was ignored at Rookwood’s production facility. In mid-July, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge dismissed the involuntary bankruptcy case, and within days Rose dropped his claims against Wade. At the end of July the auction went forward, and the Rookwood assets were acquired by another one of Wade’s LLCs.

    While the wrangling at Rookwood is painted as a struggle between Rose and Wade, some close observers paint a more nuanced picture of a dedicated staff confronting a difficult economy who were saved by the Wades’ decision to get involved. “If the Wades hadn’t stepped in and infused money into it, I think Rookwood would be gone by now,” says Riley Humler, head of the auction firm Humler Nolan, which specializes in Rookwood. “There was no money, there was no product. Chris Rose is not the bad guy; I think his vision was good, and good for Cincinnati. It just didn’t work out. The handwriting was on the wall. I don’t think the Wades are the bad guys in this situation, either. They’ve put millions of dollars into Rookwood.”

    There are shareholders who side with Rose, and others who express relief at Wade’s takeover of the company and cautious optimism that Rookwood may be able to right itself. When I visited the company offices in early July, Rookwood appeared to be forging ahead: preparing Christmas ornaments, commemorative tiles, trophies for the Western & Southern Open, and beer steins for the new Moerlein Lager House. There are two new industrial kilns, valued at $50,000 each, production has been increased to seven days a week, and the company just produced its first catalog since 1925. Company officials say May was Rookwood’s first profitable month since its resurrection, and a long way from December 2010, when they say they were preparing to shut the company down.

    As in his restaurant group, Wade has left some disgruntled ex-employees in his wake, but he also has a number who are enthusiastic about the company’s future. “It’s a very different culture than before—there are many fewer surprises and there’s so much more getting done on the production floor. The guys are much more relaxed and focused on the work, and not on the chaos,” says production manager Marsha Williams, who moved her family from northern California two years ago to join Rookwood. “As artists, to be part of this is huge. We are the people who will be in the history books, and that was our inspiration for coming and our inspiration for hanging in here.”

    As Rose sees it, however, the current management is reaping the rewards of his efforts. “Every historical design they have, I spent months if not years researching those designs, market-testing them, and talking to people around the country,” he says. “I saw myself as a protector of this company and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to protect it from the likes of Martin Wade.” While Rose withdrew his lawsuit in July, he did so without prejudice, which means he has a year to reintroduce it. As with the restaurants, the legal battle over Rookwood has not definitively ended just yet.

    Despite the legal fight with de Cavel, Wade remains in the restaurant business, albeit with a smaller portfolio than a few years ago. Local 127—which, as this story went to press, had just moved from the former Pigall’s space into The Bistro’s former location—is a more casual restaurant, emphasizing regionally sourced food and employing the area’s only master sommelier. Wade admits that it isn’t making money, but he says it’s losing less than Pigall’s did. Meanwhile, Lavomatic remains open and Wade says that it enjoyed its highest-grossing month ever in July. Pho Paris became Chalk Food + Wine, which closed early this year, just weeks after the closure of the Greenup Café; it’s now rented out to a bar/restaurant called Blinkers (“A tenant!” Wade exults). The Wades briefly operated the Edgecliff Room restaurant in the Edgecliff condo tower in Walnut Hills (which is now owned and operated by the Stephens Restaurant Group as View). And they closed Grammer’s in Over-the-Rhine in March and reopened it in June after extensive renovations.

    The abrupt March closing of Grammer’s, coming right after the busy Bockfest weekend, was another move that surprised patrons and angered staff. Gavin Richardson, the former marketing manager for Grammer’s, was one of Wade’s only ex-employees who would talk to me. “The one thing you can count on with Martin Wade is his timing being absolutely horrible,” Richardson says. “He fired the CEO of Rookwood a few days before Christmas when his wife was dealing with cancer. He closed Chalk the day after New Year’s. He closed Grammer’s the day after Bockfest, when we made an unconscionable amount of money in the rain. It’s not always what he’s doing; it’s the way he goes about doing what he wants to do. It’s his business, it’s his family’s business. But I know so many people for whom he’s put a sour taste in their mouth.”

    Wade blames patrons for the deterioration that led to the temporary closing of Grammer’s: Sinks broken in the women’s restroom because people were having sex on them, patrons dancing on the pool table, indentations in the bar’s priceless mural from shot glasses thrown at it. When the Wades saw the mural damage, “that night my wife told me, ‘We will close it tomorrow,’” he says. “That was right after Bockfest. She said, ‘We are caretakers and this building is not going to get ruined on our watch.’”

    In recent years Wade has purchased two dozen or so buildings in the neighborhood around Grammer’s, near the proposed streetcar line, prompting speculation about his plans for the area. He is now working with Urban Sites and has created an architectural plan for the 1400 block of Walnut Street, which he hopes 3CDC will take on after completing the Mercer Project one block south. Wade sees the renovation as an extension of the work he and his wife have done to improve the urban core. Pigall’s was the first restaurant to open downtown after the 2001 riots, and it was followed by others. Likewise, Wade believes that the opening of Lavomatic in the Gateway Quarter helped convince other businesses that the revitalization of Vine Street north of Central Parkway was legitimate.

    Which is not to say that his recent business difficulties do not give him pause. “We have started to ask ourselves a question,” Wade says. “Based upon everything that’s happened in the last two years, why are we living here? Why aren’t we living in Santa Barbara? There have been a lot of nasty things said about me. It’s sad. When the first lawsuit started, somebody called me and said, ‘Martin, do yourself a favor. Don’t get on any blogs.’”

    Wise advice, because over the past two years a public relations battle has been waged parallel to the legal battles, and that is a fight that Wade has clearly lost. His dealings with a beloved public figure like Jean-Robert de Cavel and a revered community icon like Rookwood have often cast him in a negative light—something, friends say, the Wades haven’t done enough to counter. “Martin and Marilyn aren’t looking for accolades or pats on the back,” Mary Hemmer says. “They’re very community-minded and there’s a group of us who’ve told them over the years, ‘You don’t do a good job of defending yourselves.’ Marilyn by nature is very private, and Martin by his profession is very tight-lipped.” The fight with de Cavel was especially damaging; the chef has won the loyalty of nearly everyone who has ever worked with him, and even those who don’t know him are charmed by the idea of a famous French chef who chose to make Cincinnati his home. The publicity from Wade’s fight with de Cavel has prompted plenty of gossip, speculation, innuendo, and detractors.

    “It’s been very upsetting in that very little of what has been written has been accurate,” Marilyn Wade wrote when asked, by e-mail, if the publicity they’ve gotten over the last few years has been difficult to deal with. “We have chosen to make Cincinnati our home. We are grateful to be part of the movement to revitalize Over-the-Rhine.”

    Her husband is more blunt. “Those kind of things—after a while you sit there and you say: Why are we doing this? Why are we employing 250 people here? What do I get out of this, having my name dragged through everything?”

    Wade is far from paranoid when he recounts how some people feel about him. In the course of my interviews I found people who won’t go to any restaurant the man owns, and others who are rooting for them to close to punish him for the breakup with de Cavel. There are those who fault him for the goings-on at Rookwood Pottery Company based solely on what they know from the restaurant fight—even though the details of each conflict differ.

    One wonders if the fallout would be the same had the Wades invested their money in manufacturing or focused on arts patronage, if the expectations had been clearer and the roles better defined. But it’s not something Wade reflects on for long. In the next breath he is detailing plans for the future, including the reopening of Grammer’s. The Wades are sponsoring the Farmers Fair in Covington for the third time this year. “Our cost for doing that,” he tells me pointedly, “is more than you and your husband make. Do we get any publicity about it? Nah. But it’s not about us.”

    He says that people ask him why he doesn’t simply retire. “What am I going to do if I retire?” he says. “I get up and I’ve got all this energy. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in three years, but what I’m trying to do now is keep 250 people employed. Some days are not as fun as other days, but for the most part I look forward to it.”

    Photograph by Jonathan Willis
    Originally published in the September 2011 issue.

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