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91.7 WVXU welcomed food writer Julie Niesen in August 2018. Niesen will delve into local, regional and national food and restaurant trends, news of interest to local diners and food lovers, and the people and personalities in the Greater Cincinnati food scene.Niesen has been covering local food since 2008. Her award-winning blog, wine me, dine me, has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Serious Eats, The Cincinnati Enquirer (and its former weekly, Metromix), WCPO Digital, City Beat, WCPO-TV, Fox19, and many more. She is a longtime resident of Over-the-Rhine, where she lives with her menagerie of pets. When she's not eating food, thinking about food, cooking food or writing about food, she runs a thought leadership program for a technology company in Chicago.

On the Move: Ruby's Dave Taylor To Head Culinary At Hickory Wald

Dave Taylor headshot
Nate Leopold
Hickory Wald's new Culinary Director, Dave Taylor.

A familiar face is moving from a Cincinnati institution to an up-and-coming brand.

Dave Taylor, best known locally as the chef for Clifton's La Poste, and who most recently spent four years with Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, joined Hickory Wald, which owns Nation, Rhinehaus, 3 Points Brewery and The Hannaford. In this WVXU exclusive interview, Taylor tells us about his path to Hickory Wald, how the loss of his father influenced his career, and the one food he can eat for the rest of his life. 

The Basics

Lives in: Westwood
Education: Bowling Green State University
Role: Culinary Director, Hickory Wald Group
Family: partner Kelly Lough, children Olivia, Sophie and Madelyn

How did you get your start in the restaurant industry?
I started out bussing and washing dishes at the Houston Inn in Mason. Through high school and college, I cooked at Tabby's and restaurants around Bowling Green State University.

I wasn't sure I wanted to do hospitality as a career. My original intent was architecture, but I switched gears to business. My family thought it was a good idea.  

After college, I served at Bravo, with the intent of going to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute.  A friend was working at Chokolate Morel, and I started to work there. [Owners] Dave Abaolos and Pam Davis gave me my first experience in fine dining and talked me out of culinary school, so I could learn the business from the inside out and collect a paycheck for my education. My biggest takeaway was learning leadership skills. 

After Chokolate Morel closed in 2004, where did you go?
I found out that Shoshanna Haftner was opening Honey [in Northside] and spent a year and a half there. Then, I went to the French Restaurant Group, and worked at Pho Paris in Oakley under Jared Whalen. I staged [a period of cooking and learning under another chef] with Summer Genetti to learn pastry. I went back to Honey, and then became sous chef at Lavomatic under Joanne Drilling and became executive chef.  

I saw an ad on Craigslist for a job, which Bryant Phillips [a local sommelier] also applied for. We became operating partners of Wise Owl in West Chester. 

You're best known for La Poste in Clifton.  How did that get started? What was your inspiration?
At the time, Jens Rosenkrantz was looking for operators for La Poste. I entered a partnership with Bryant and Kelly Lough, which partnered with Jens. We opened in fall of 2010 -- I ran the kitchen, Bryant was the sommelier and Kelly ran the front-of-house.

My goal was never to be "chef." I was never chasing a [James] Beard [Award] or a Michelin star. I wanted to create something that made sense to the community, which was Clifton.  

We had a great opening year, and we had the opportunity in the former Slim's space in Northside. We wanted to do something scalable that could become multiple units, so we opened Django Western Taco.

You left La Poste in 2014. What changed? 
In December of 2014, my father committed suicide. It made me rethink how I wanted to remain part of the hospitality business.  We've experienced so much mental illness and drug abuse in the industry because the stress levels are so high. I knew I wanted to leave the kitchen and focus on things I was more passionate about, while trying not to "kill myself" -- literally and figuratively -- at work.  

I knew I wanted to go back to my roots: architecture, training and development, but I didn't know how to make such a dramatic change. After reading an article about Ruby's, and their growth as well as their goals for the future, I decided I wanted to get involved in the Jeff Ruby organization. I originally intended to serve at Carlo and Johnny's to get my foot in the door, but two days later, Bawe [Shinholster, JRCE's Corporate Training and Development Director] called me about an executive chef role. I said no. Britney [Ruby Miller, JRCE's president] called. The next thing I knew, I was doing a menu tasting and became the executive chef of Carlo and Johnny's.  

At the same time, Britney recognized the need to grow the corporate team, and one year later, I was promoted to Director of Culinary Development. I was involved in everything from administration to menu development, to recruitment to opening new locations. I spent four years with Ruby's and worked with incredible people. 

What appealed to you about Hickory Wald?
I see a path of growth with an organization that is expanding with tremendous potential to be extremely successful. They're growing their structure the right way, with young, creative, intelligent people with a solid foundation. I'll get to work on concept development for their fast-casual location, for design and planning for Nation in Westwood, inventory cost control and strategic planning. Plus, their new Nation location in Westwood will let me walk to work!

What's your favorite thing to cook?
Anything in my grandmother's cast iron.  I can cook anything in it and it tastes better to my soul.

If you weren't in the hospitality industry, what would you be doing? 
I love to build things, like furniture. My dad was a DIY master.  I could do construction if food didn't work out.

Favorite food?
I could eat watermelon as my only food for the rest of my life. 

Taylor began his role at Hickory Wald on Wednesday, August 8. You can learn more about Hickory Wald on its website or visit Nation in Pendleton, Rhinehaus in Over-the-Rhine, Three Points Brewery in Pendleton, or The Hannaford in Covington.