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Area Food Businesses Win Grants to Expand Their Reach

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When Rachel DesRochers launched her first company, Grateful Grahams, in 2010, she quickly noticed that she didn’t have a peer group of like-minded business owners that she could tap into to share experiences.  

Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport

Photograph courtesy of Rachel DesRochers

“As we kept growing, I saw there was no real space or community for food entrepreneurs,” says DesRochers, who founded the Incubator Kitchen Collective (IKC), a shared-use commercial kitchen space that supports small food businesses, in 2013. “Looking back on the past 11 years, I realize it takes a community of passionate people who show up every day and work hard to make dreams come true.”

Kroger helped those dreams along when its Cincinnati/Dayton Division partnered with Incubator Kitchen Collective to offer grants to local food entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, the hometown food giant and IKC announced that five companies were selected to receive grants through the partnership.

DesRochers was introduced to Erin Rolfes, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton Division, through a friend in 2019. “When we met, [DesRochers] shared that she meets many entrepreneurs who would benefit from the incubator experience but are so early in the business that they don’t have the funding to participate,” Rolfes says. “At that point, it was an easy decision to create the fund.”

The grants will cover their rent at IKC for 2021, which will allow them to focus on getting their businesses fully launched in a commercial kitchen. The winners are:

Braziel, co-founder of the minority business incubator MORTAR, says the grant will help him launch Pata Roja Taqueria’s taco cart and expand the business’s taco kit production. 

Derrick Braziel of Pata Roja Taqueria

Photograph by Jonathan Medina

“I have worked to help Pata Roja grow our sales by almost 200 percent this year, adding staff and positioning our business to grow into 2021,” he explains. “Access to a subsidized kitchen space will enable us to truly focus on growing a business we’ve been working so hard to prove over the past two years.” 

Braziel notes that he’d previously had space at the Incubator Kitchen but had to leave because he couldn’t afford it while simultaneously trying to grow his business. “This opportunity will enable us to have the equipment we need to grow our business the way that we want to,” he adds. 

For Fawzeya Owda, whose bakery combines Middle Eastern and American baking techniques, the money will allow her to take more orders and not turn away customers. “In the past, I couldn’t take all the orders that come to me because working from my kitchen is not a big place with all the equipment that I need,” says the FreshLo Chef program graduate and mother of three. “Winning the grant was a great opportunity for me because renting a kitchen is not cheap. I’m looking forward to the chance to work in such a big industrial kitchen.” 

IKC currently operates out of a 10,000-square-foot space in Newport, supporting nearly 50 small food entrepreneurs. Over the years, the nonprofit has worked with more than 150 companies. Twenty of those companies, including Whirlybird Granola, Babushka Pierogies, Tuba Baking, Rose & Mary Bakery, and Pickled Pig, have incubated out into storefronts or larger production facilities.

“Local businesses are an important piece to keeping our economy healthy,” Rolfes says. “We’re proud to play a small role in helping these amazing food entrepreneurs bring their businesses to the next level—and I look forward to being able to purchase their delicious items in Kroger one day.”

New Hyde Park Pizzeria Gives Pop-Up Shop a Permanent Home

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When you open your own pizza shop, you can put whatever you want on the walls. Take Alex Plattner. He loves Henri Matisse, so when you step into his small pizzeria in Hyde Park, you’re met with a wall coated in Matisse-inspired black cut-outs. It’s bold. It’s graphic. And it’s a whole lot of fun.

Plattner plans to open his pizzeria, Parlor Pizza Project, the second week of February, a timeline he calls “cautiously optimistic.” 

“Everything has been good so far,” he says. “There are always little hiccups and things, [but] since I took over an existing restaurant space, I avoided a lot of the challenges of a full buildout and all that goes with that.”

Alex Plattner (left) with the owner of The Rhined, Stephanie Webster

Photograph courtesy of Alex Plattner

If Parlor Pizza Project sounds a little familiar to you, it may be because you’ve perhaps had some of Plattner’s pies before at Oakley Wines, where he’s hosted the Parlor Pizza Project pop-up on Sundays since this summer. His last pop-up is planned for January 31.

In his own pizzeria, he will be able to offer a larger menu with more options. At Oakley Wines, customers could choose from two or three pies. In his restaurant, Plattner plans to stick with five or six signature options, plus a create-your-own pizza where customers can put together their favorite toppings, and all pies will be 16 inches. 

While Plattner’s background is not in food—he came from the education field, where he was a teacher and administrator—he’s had a history of seeking out good pizza since childhood, he explains. He prefers pies with a little spice and simple toppings: a meat and a veggie. His go-to has Italian sausage and some of Parlor’s pickled peppers, plus a lot of fresh basil. “I like pizzas that feel fresh, not [like] somebody cracked open a can and put something boring on there,” he says.

Given Parlor Pizza Project’s space and set-up, opening during a pandemic didn’t add as much of a hurdle as might be expected. While customers will one day be able to stand up and eat at the tall tables at the windows, Parlor’s menu is to-go only right now. In fact, according to the Instagram announcement he made to his followers about the restaurant, the pandemic might have actually helped Platter open Parlor in its own space. He wrote, “The pandemic forced me to distill my many vague and ever-changing plans for the future, and most of all, convinced me that I’ve got to go for it. I love to make pizza and I can’t wait to get this thing going.” 

“The restaurant is so small and limited with what I’m doing, and I’ve seen more and more restaurants being forced to scale down and focus on a couple things like carry out,” he says. “I never wanted to open big restaurant. This isn’t a crazy weird thing to do. People are always going to be drawn to pizza and carry out, even in a pandemic.”

Parlor’s location is in something of a special spot for Plattner; he grew up just down the street and a number of his family member still live nearby. “I really want to get to know the people in the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s why I like food in the first place—the relationships.”

Saving the American Chestnut Tree

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His branches ruffle in the light breeze under a brilliant sun, a lone sentry in a clearing surrounded by the traditional guardians of Ohio’s forests. The hemlocks, maples, white ash, and sycamores seem to watch over him, giving the youngster the space and energy to grow. And he has.

At age 3, he’s already more than 12 feet tall, and his distinctive foliage suggests he is healthy and ready to reign as the King of Hocking Hills. Instead, he’ll likely wither and die within the next 10 years.

As pioneers poured over the Allegheny Mountains in the 1780s and began settling eastern Ohio, they passed under the canopy of millions of American chestnut trees. We would be awestruck by what they saw: mammoth brownish-gray columns of bark towering 100 feet in the air, the first branches not poking out until halfway up to heaven before splaying their splendor in a crown of green sawtooth leaves.

Below, the barren forest floor awaited the first crisp days of autumn, when the trees’ fertilized yellow-brown burrs would burst open and release a shower of shiny, mahogany-colored nuts. They were manna from heaven, an annual gift that fed people and animals. They were nutritious and delicious. There were so many, legend had it that the early settlers could walk for miles on a carpet of chestnuts.

The wood itself sported a coarse grain and a range of colors. And there was a lot of it. The trunks, at their base, could exceed eight feet in diameter. Chestnut wood was almost as strong as oak but with half the weight. It was easy to work with. Pioneers used it to build their cabins and barns, and, because it was rot-resistant, it was a “must have” for foundations and floors. Leftover wood was made into bed frames, cabinets, tables, and chairs.

“It was known as the perfect tree,” says Carolyn Keiffer, a botany professor at Miami University’s Middletown campus and president of the Ohio chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). “Everyone loved the chestnut. The pioneers needed the chestnut. Even today, it makes everyone smile.”

Nearly 4 billion chestnut trees stood guard down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia. They were about a quarter of the trees in the forest, and their range extended west into Ohio, about as far as Chillicothe. Then, around the turn of the 20th century, a blight arrived with imported Asian chestnut trees and infected the native trees.

“It’s a good early example about how transportation is killing the world,” says Brian McCarthy, a professor of ecology at Ohio University. “We’re seeing it now with the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorn beetle. Imported insects, invasive plants, and pathogens are carried here, and the native ecosystem has no way to defend itself.”

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840)


The Asian chestnut trees were exotic, and American consumers loved them. They had no idea they were planting a Trojan horse. Embedded in its genome was a lethal fungus, cryphonectria parasitica, neutralized in Asia through adaptation over centuries. But it was an unrelenting killer here. The first American chestnut died in what is now the Bronx Zoo in 1904, and the fungus marched like an unstoppable army, reaching Ohio in 1932. Within three years, it had all but wiped out our chestnut trees. The species is now known by scientists as “functionally extinct.”

Stephen Rist

Photograph by Carlie Burton

“It’s an airborne fungus that can be spread through the wind and by birds or squirrels,” Stephen Rist explains as we examine a stand of chestnuts planted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). A few yards away, the roar of a couple of motorcycles brutalizes the silence, then suddenly passes, returning Hocking Hills State Forest to sweet birdsong.

Rist, who manages ODNR District 4, uses his long legs to jump fallen logs and stomp down thick underbrush, assorted seedlings, and weeds in his path. These chestnuts are hybrids: 15/16th American and 1/16th blight-resistant Asian. It’s a crossbreeding experiment, one of three strategies TACF is employing in what’s already a decades-long effort to restore the tree. The foundation calls it the 3BUR strategy, which stands for breeding, biotechnology, and biocontrol united for restoration. It sounds a bit like a marketing campaign, but it’s pure science—though some of it is controversial.

The saplings are encased in nearly opaque 5-foot-tall white tubes, but their branches are starting to poke out the top. They aren’t sick yet, but they’re sharing their environment with their killer. “The fungus is everywhere. It’s probably on the soles of your shoes right now,” says Rist ominously, strangely making me scratch my ankles.

Just a few hundred yards from this hillside lies the spot where Keiffer fell in love with the chestnut. With interests in both botany and hunting, she was drawn to a study known as “restorative ecology.” An undergrad course at Ohio University took her to Hocking Hills, where she discovered a chestnut sprout near Old Man’s Cave. “I tucked that in the back of my head and then, in grad school at OU, I chose the chestnut for a seminar I had to do on a disease or pathogen,” she says.

Keiffer asked for information from TACF and was dumbfounded with the material they sent her. “I couldn’t believe there were people out there who’d take the time to help a student,” she remembers. Her love connection with the chestnut was complete.

“She walked into my office one day and asked me what I knew about the chestnut tree, and I said, Well, not very much,” McCarthy recalls of his grad student. “It wasn’t long after that she introduced me to TACF, and I started to look at how we might insert a restoration colony into our forest ecosystem.” He’s now the chairman of TACF’s board of directors.

McCarthy was particularly fascinated with a stand of chestnuts near La Crosse, Wisconsin, that was still standing tall and healthy. In the 1880s, a farmer had brought about a dozen chestnuts from central Pennsylvania, planted the seeds 50 feet apart, and let nature take its course. They flourished and procreated up to 6,000 healthy trees, probably because Wisconsin was more than 500 miles west of the chestnut’s natural range.

It took 102 years, but the fungus finally caught up with this defiant stand of trees. Wisconsin forestry experts moved aggressively—even coating the trees in bleach—but the fungus was stubbornly resilient. Finally, in 1992, scientists from Michigan State University and the University of West Virginia tried a biocontrol, inserting into the infected trees a virus extracted from a tree canker in Florence, Italy. Its chemistry weakened the chestnut fungus, giving the host tree the boost it needed to stay alive.

The approach worked for a while, McCarthy notes, but the combination of harsh Wisconsin winters and a severe drought around 2010 seems to have weakened the Tuscan virus and, sadly, not the fungus. The Wisconsin chestnut miracle grove is failing, but McCarthy believes it’s proved that biocontrol is a viable strategy.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—William Butler Yeats (1926)


What’s intriguing about the chestnut is that it’s as stubborn as its mortal enemy. The fungus kills the tree, but it doesn’t kill the roots. So, when a chestnut tree succumbs and eventually falls, stump shoots or root shoots spring forth to begin the life-and-death cycle all over again.

An infected American chestnut tree

Photograph by Carlie Burton

An infected American chestnut tree

Photograph by Carlie Burton

The sprouts grow quickly, and their smooth bark, like a baby’s skin, shows no break. But, Keiffer says, after a tree reaches five to seven years old and begins to bear fruit, the expanding bark roughens and small breaks, some imperceptible to the human eye, appear. Insects may enter and make the holes bigger. Squirrels may scramble up the bark looking for the nuts, their claws ripping at the bark.

The fungal spores, like running backs who see a hole in the defensive line, break through. The tree is ultimately doomed.

Rist examines and photographs an infected tree in the Zaleski State Forest just west of Athens. The trunk is disfigured with dozens of bright orange pustules, the fungus’s fatal signature. They contain oxalic acid that will slip under the bark and attack the cambium, the next layer in, destroying the tree’s growth hormones first. Eventually, they’ll form a ring around the tree, choking it to death. Everything above the ring will die; everything below, including those reincarnated roots, will live.

The crossbreeding strategy is designed to add just enough genetic material from the Asian chestnut to give the overall tree a viable defense. Asian chestnuts are attacked by the fungus too, but the species has built up enough immunity that it isn’t fatal. Scientists have crossed the American chestnut with the Asian variety through several generations now to the point where the overall tree is about 95 percent American. The crossbreeding has shown some promise, but it’s a slow process. Trees have their own timetable.

“What’s missing [with the crossbreeding] is the magnificent stature,” says Tom Brochu, a retired company executive from Veritiv Corporation, a spinoff of International Paper. Brochu now serves as a trail ambassador at the Cincinnati Nature Center, where two years ago he planted about a dozen pure-bred American chestnuts. “It’s for experiential learning,” he says. “It’s for the kids who come here. They learn about this great tree and what’s happened to it. Maybe it inspires them to take an interest in field biology.”

Brochu anticipates no miracles for his trees. Chestnuts don’t like southwestern Ohio’s limestone-based alkaline soil, but it won’t kill them. The fungus will.

The American-Asian crossbred trees, even after several generations, produce shorter, bushier offspring, mimicking the characteristics of the Asian chestnut. They do produce nuts like other chestnut varieties, but they’re not as sweet or nutritious and their output per tree falls short of the prolific American chestnut.

Perhaps as discouraging, Keiffer and McCarthy point out, is the discovery through gene-mapping technology that resistance to the blight is imprinted on nine different chromosomes of the Asian chestnut, not two as originally thought. “That’s set the whole traditional crossbreeding program back,” Keiffer says. McCarthy agrees, noting, “This might explain why the results we’ve gotten aren’t what they should be after 30 years of crossbreeding.”

Continuous crossbreeding by recrossing the best with the best might still work in the end, but those Asian bushy chromosomes won’t go quietly.

Another approach to breeding in fungus resistance is gene editing, in which the American chestnut genome is changed to reduce its vulnerability to the fungus, replacing the defective genes with those from another species. For more than 30 years, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) have been working to create a genetically-engineered, blight-resistant American chestnut using enzymes specifically targeted to insert a gene from the ordinary wheat plant into the chestnut’s DNA sequence. It’s known as CRISPR technology.

Scientists knew the wheat gene contained codes for an enzyme called oxalate oxidase, which through a chemical reaction breaks down the oxalic acid the fungus releases into the chestnut. It didn’t work at first, but when SUNY scientists amped up the gene sequence, the inoculated trees were blight resistant and passed their resistance to the next generation. The trees produced nuts, and tests demonstrated they mimicked their natural “cousins.” They’re now known as Darling 58 trees—named for a man in western New York on whose property a single healthy, nut-producing American chestnut was discovered in 1989.

For the last six years, the growing trees have been sequestered behind a high deer fence in a special field near the SUNY campus in Syracuse, closely monitored and government regulated. Their reproductive parts are double bagged, so their pollen doesn’t leave quarantine. The plan is, when approved by three agencies of the federal government, to introduce them to the forest, breeding them with different strands of existing American chestnuts to achieve a new variety of the species.

The process is controversial, as all genetically modified plants seem to be. It’s caused a rift within TACF, and some long-time members have left the organization. It concerns some proponents of crossbreeding who worry this shiny new object will distract and overwhelm their continuing research. And it’s alarmed some in the environmental community, who question the ethics and the unknown impact on the existing forest.

“We’re not doing anything weird here,” McCarthy insists, noting this specific wheat gene is in bread, cereal, peanuts, bananas, spinach, and more than 100 other foods. “The idea is to take a gene from a closely related source and move it to where nature can take its course.”

Keiffer agrees, adding, “We’re not creating a Frankenfood here. This is real science. It’s a tool we need to consider.”

Brochu, who has an undergraduate degree from SUNY-ESF, is excited about the work his alma mater is doing and has filed comments with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first federal agency to review SUNY’s petition to release Darling 58 into the forest ecology. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency will need to approve the genetically modified tree as well, so the process could take as long as five years.

“This is good science even in this confrontational era,” Brochu asserts, admitting he can become emotional about the American chestnut. “As a human race, we have done a lot of damage to our environment. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, in our lifetimes, we saved a species?”

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
—Robert Wells and Mel Torme (1945)


Back in the Hocking Hills woods, Rist and I relax outside an ODNR cabin. He tells me about his two young sons and how they love the outdoors. A flock of noisy Canada geese interrupt his train of thought, but I get it: His sons are just like him. A fat, green walnut falls from above, bouncing off the top of my head. Rist laughs, noting the forest has a sense of humor.

He also knows it’s missing something—a skyline highlighted by the stately American chestnut. He imagines a future forest rejuvenated by grafts from today’s chestnuts and bred with either crossbred or genetically-modified trees, the dreaded fungus rendered benign.

Rist makes it clear he’d love to be one of the new Johnny Appleseeds who will dig the holes and drop the seeds into southeastern Ohio’s acidic soil. And he hopes his two young sons will one day, like the original pioneers, walk on a carpet of chestnuts.

Four Local Designers You Should Get to Know

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Whether you’re looking for a fun gift for your bestie or are seeking high-quality design and branding work for your business, these four local designers make the world a little brighter with their quirky, retro, and one-of-a-kind work.

Pop Rocket Creations Owners Kyle and Melissa Sliney

Photograph courtesy of Pop Rocket Creations

Pop Rocket Creations

At Pop Rocket Creations, the designs are kitschy, retro, and super playful. Consider the iron-on patch of a bat in 3D glasses or the Creature of the Night coffee mug, complete with pea green sludge bubbling over the rim. Purchase their goodies online or at nearly a dozen locations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Owners Kyle and Melissa Sliney also work with clients directly, offering services ranging from photography and design to social media and branding. The husband-and-wife creative team works out of their Madisonville home studio.

Wolf Bomb

The graphic design work at Wolf Bomb studio is modern, clean, and brightly colored—and it grew out of a love for music. Owner Alexander Scaglia designed T-shirts and gig posters for his high school band. Today, Wolf Bomb offers prints and apparel, including hats and T-shirts. Scaglia also works on designs for local companies like Proud Hound Coffee Roasters and Rooted Juicery & Kitchen.

A.P. Loves Design

Westwood resident Andi Ploehs started designing greeting cards after working at an ad agency, “and I haven’t looked back,” she says.

Andi Ploehs

Photograph courtesy of A.P. Loves Design

A.P. Loves Design

Photograph courtesy of A.P. Loves Design

Her shop, A.P. Loves Design, has been on Etsy since 2012 and features paper goods to help you feel good, including notepads, stickers, cards, and custom illustrations. Ploehs’s work features bold colors and simple, encouraging messaging, like Self-care is important and You’re freaking awesome! Like really. Shoppers can customize their cards with their own names and favorite color.

Colette Paperie

The designs at Colette Paperie are bold, bright, and a little cheeky. Card sentiments include You are a flamingo in a world of boring-ass pigeons and Congrats on the huge boobs. (Oh, and the pregnancy).

In addition to cards, shoppers can find paper goods ranging from prints and stickers to coloring books, plus gift items like pencils and key chains—all featuring designer Keli Spanier’s wit and cheer. Find Colette Paperie online and in shops coast to coast, including throughout Cincinnati.

Five Local Restaurants Offering Take-Home Meal Kits

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Dining at home doesn’t have to be boring. Spice things up by ordering a take-home meal kit from one of these local restaurants. Each kit comes packed with all the ingredients you need for a delicious night in.

MOXY

With meal-kit boxes for every occasion, MOXY is the new go-to option when you want restaurant quality food from the comfort of your home. Why, you ask? Well, because meal kits are all they make. The “Thursday Pasta Kit,” “Friday Family Meal” and “The Weekend Box” each come with three scrumptious courses. And if meat isn’t your thing, “The Vegetarian Kit” might do the trick.
517 W. 7th St., Newport (425) 289-9075, moxycincinnati.com

Catch-A-Fire Pizza

While picking up a cold brew at Mad Tree Brewery, ask for a take home pizza kit complete with dough, red sauce, cheese and optional pepperoni from their in-house restaurant Catch-A-Fire. These easy-peasy pizzas take only eight minutes to bake in a home oven.
3301 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 441-8565; 9290 Kenwood Rd., Blue Ash, (513) 514-0016, catchafirepizza.com

FUSIAN

The art of sushi making is easily accessible at home with FUSIAN’s “Roll it Yourself” DIY sushi kit. It comes with a rolling mat, a seaweed wrap, and your choice of rice, sauces, veggies and proteins. They even provided an easy-to-follow how-to video that covers all the steps.
600 Vine St., downtown, (513) 421-7646; 8060 Montgomery Rd., Kenwood, (513) 745-9398; 3780 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-2111 fusian.com/rollityourself

Joe’s Pizza Napoli

There’s nothing like authentic Italian, and Joe’s $22 take-and-bake pasta and pizza kits have everything you necessary to make your own versions of their perfect Napoli cuisine. Even though you’re cooking these dishes at home, you’ll still want to tell Joe’s “grazie.”
507 Chamber Dr., Milford, (513) 248-0082, joespizzanapoli.com

Condado Tacos

House margaritas, anyone? Condado Tacos not only provides house margarita kits for adults, but entire boxes of build-your-own taco boxes for the whole family to enjoy. Pick your choice of proteins, sauces and other essential toppings. The whole operation is about customization—your tacos, your choice.
195 East Freedom Way, downtown, (513) 263-1172, 3329 Vandercar Way, Oakley, (513) 458-2034, 5070 Deerfield Blvd., Mason, (513) 492-8652,
condadotacos.com

Local Playwright’s Work Selected for Virtual Festival

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As the pandemic drags on, artists and theatergoers alike are adapting to seeing works of theater produced for their computer screens instead of live audiences. And Roger Collins is in the thick of it.

The O’Bryonville resident’s latest play Trading Places premieres this week as part of Gallery Players’ 24th annual Black Box New Play Festival in Brooklyn. It’s the tale of a father and his teenage daughter, separated in cyberspace, debating the merits of bringing a loved one back from the dead. The father prevails and the pair perform an incantation and resurrect the family matriarch but will she join them in the living world or will they join her in the afterlife?

Trading Places is a ghost story,” says Collins, a former professor at the University of Cincinnati. “When I began thinking about my ghost story, I knew it would reflect how, in the world of the supernatural, the best laid plans of mortals can go awry.”

He says his personal source for the supernatural was his Trinidadian maternal grandmother. She and his grandfather migrated from Trinidad in 1919, and she brought that country’s folklore with her.

“She blessed her four grandchildren privately with the notion that we each were paranormally ‘lucky,’ but that we’d lose our ‘luck’ if we ever revealed our gift,” he explains. “So none of us did. Until her funeral, that is, when we each hinted and finally revealed the secret she’d imparted. What may have appeared to be inappropriate laughter at the solemn occasion was simply her grandchildren recognizing and applauding her crafty wisdom.”

All of the works in the Black Box New Play Festival’s lineup were written to be staged via Zoom. Collins wrote Trading Places in fall 2019 and of course, conceived it with the intention of having the three characters—a father, his wife, and their teenage daughter—appearing on stage together. When COVID-19 hit and theaters began to close, he turned his attention to revising plays that he thought could be performed as radio plays or virtually. Last summer, his 10-minute play Humanoid Traffic Stop was included in the Village Players of Fort Thomas’s virtual production, It’s Alive-ish! (He came up with that play after reading an article on engineers considering robot police officers.)

“In writing Trading Places as a Zoom play, I felt I needed to provide a rationale for the three characters to be separated in space,” Collins notes. “That required revision, but I didn’t want the revisions—the rationale for their separation in space—to take over the play.”

While he continues to accumulate material that can be adapted for the world we’re currently living in, the playwright hopes to eventually get back to productions that are meant for the stage.

“I believe the pandemic’s effects on creative output (writing, film, and art production) will persist long after the pandemic has ended,” Collins says. “The resources necessary for a Zoom production are much less than a fully staged production. But I don’t imagine staged theatrical productions for live audiences will decline. Theatergoers will want to remain such. Gathering in face-to-face communities in order to experience public art is beginning to feel like a quaint vestige of a long-ago golden age. We’ll want it back!”

Trading Places runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, through Sunday, Jan. 24.

Xavier University Graduates Launch Events and Hospitality Group

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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.

Brandon Martin

Photograph courtesy of Brandon Martin

Anthony Notaro

Photograph courtesy of Anthony Notaro

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.

The Overlook Kitchen + Bar at The Summit Hotel

Photograph courtesy of The Summit Hotel

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 and honey dressing. 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.”

This Classic Westwood Victorian Is a Sign of the Times

Cincinnati’s west side: if you know, you know. Locals love its roomy suburban footprint divided by main arteries like Queen City and Glenway avenues. It also has deep cultural roots and hometown pride to spare. What the west side didn’t have, until recently, was much in the way of town squares (à la Hyde Park) to centralize public spaces and help each community feel distinctive. But that’s changing now as shops and restaurants rush to build up the central business districts in neighborhoods like Westwood, already one of the most desirable addresses in the city.

That’s where you’ll find this Werk Road home, built in 1897 and characterized by original Victorian features like a butler’s pantry, leaded- and stained-glass windows, and a powerhouse front porch set way back from the street. Two bathrooms, two distinct eating spaces (a formal dining room and eat-in kitchen), and an office space with a separate entrance make this four-bedroom home exceedingly liveable. Originally built for a Nippert family member (as in UC’s Nippert Stadium), the house is grand while also being approachable, especially with its $315,000 price tag. (Which might account for why it was under contract at press time.)

If you’re in the market for a new home in Cincinnati, then you know all too well that open listings are down and demand is very much up. And according to Comey & Shepherd listing agent Robert DiTomassi (of the Druffel DiTomassi team), this is good news for the Westwoods of the world: “Cincinnati has been at this low inventory for years now,” he says. Buyers are opening up their search to neighborhoods that were formerly off their radar, and they have quickly turned to Westwood, which sports new amenities and a gussied up town square.

This home is emblematic of the neighborhood’s personality: A reliable stock of attrac­tive, semi-urban, single-family homes—many of which are historic. And the real draw of the west side, above and beyond new breweries and a 15-minute downtown commute: Homes here are simply more affordable than their east side counterparts, mainly because this part of town has a kind of insular mystique that has obscured its true value.

Hangry Omar’s Has a New Take on the Classic Slider

Hangry Omar’s, a new concept from Rich’s Proper Food & Drink, offers creative and highly addictive takes on the slider. That meshes perfectly with Covington Yard’s “booze and food hall” concept—a quick and tasty way to soak up those beers. But unlike the grease-soaked, slightly viscous sliders that most of us are all too familiar with, these sliders are just as good the morning after. For one thing, they’re big: almost veering into actual sandwich territory (I have what can charitably be described as a “healthy appetite” and filled up after just three). First up was the West Coast slider: a beef patty with onions, pickles, American cheese, and “1001 Island Sauce.” It’s a simple burger, but each ingredient was elevated, from the crispy, razor-thin patty to the translucent onions and surprisingly sweet sauce to the toasted, buttery potato bun.

While the West Coast slider evoked a California burger shack, the pork belly slider was like attending a summer picnic. The soft pork belly, pickled slaw, and tangy barbecue sauce hit all the notes of a good pulled pork sandwich. For vegetarians, the smoky tempeh slider with American cheese, buffalo sauce, and tomatillo relish will do the trick and then some. I rounded out my meal with a side of fries: crispy potato wedges served with “Hangry Sauce,” a smoky mustard with a bit of kick. If you’re looking to refuel for your night out in Covington, Hangry Omar’s is the ideal filling station.

Hangry Omar’s (at Covington Yard), 401 Greenup St., Covington