'Cincinnati Is Built On Community': Boomerangs And Transplants On What Keeps Them In The Queen City
Cincinnati can have a bit of a bad rap.
"People never leave the neighborhood they grew up in!"
"It's hard to make friends! Everyone has had the same ones since grade school!"
"Asking about your high school is so exclusionary if you didn't grow up here." (OK, that's not wrong…)
If you look beyond the stereotypes, you'll see that a lot of creative talent who've left Cincinnati are coming back and others, who've been recruited here or just found their way here, are staying and opening their own businesses. In the restaurant world, many successful restauranteurs have made Cincinnati home: Jean-Robert de Cavel (from France; has started Table, French Crust Café, Bar a Boeuf and L here), Jean-Francois Flechet (Belgium; Taste of Belgium), Jose Salazar (New York; Salazar and Mita's), and Dan Wright (Chicago; Senate, Abigail Street, Pontiac, Holiday Spirits) have all made lives, raised families and started multiple successful businesses here.
Why is Cincinnati so appealing? Why do people come back to start businesses here? We asked a few Cincinnatians – some who were born here and boomeranged back and others who landed here for a multitude of reasons – why Cincinnati has become home for them and for their businesses.
Julia Petiprin and Catherine Manabat, Homemakers Bar (pictured, above)
"I feel like I grew up in Cincinnati," says Catherine Manabat, a native of Los Angeles, who came to Cincinnati 11 years ago. "I didn't mean to stay." Manabat and partner Julia Petiprin (also from L.A., but didn't meet Manabat until she moved to Cincinnati four years ago) will open their own slice of home this summer at Homemaker's Bar on 13th street in Over-the-Rhine.
Manabat spent time in film school and worked for the Morris Agency in Hollywood. However, she saw hospitality as a constant in her life and when her best friend moved to Cincinnati, she hopped on it. "Our souls were aligned. Cincinnati and I were both figuring out our new identity." Manabat fell in love with Cincinnati, and wanted to be a part of the renaissance in food and beverage that was happening: she found it easy to make friends, and soon pivoted to 21c, where she helped launch their bar program, allowing her to "flourish with no restrictions."
Prior to coming to Cincinnati, Petiprin opened an interior design studio in L.A., where she lived below Stuart King, who was opening Sundry and Vice in Cincinnati. He asked if she'd design the space—and move to Cincinnati. She felt like Cincinnati was "lettuce—I didn’t have feelings either way. It was just there," jokes Petiprin. "So let's check out Cincinnati!" She fell in love with the "insane" OTR architecture and decided to take a chance and move for a year. That year turned into four. "There are so many opportunities that are hard to find in a larger market," says Petiprin. "It's harder to be a part of a neighborhood, and have the neighborhood be a part of your business [in L.A.] In Downtown L.A., "the streets clear out." Here, she says, "life is easy."
Petiprin and Manabat met while Manabat was working as a rep for Watershed Distillery, and Petiprin was her customer. The two quickly became friends—and soon, business partners. "Cincinnati is misunderstood. Its slogan should be 'It Doesn't Suck,' because it's really a gem," says Manabat. "We want to help give Cincinnati a voice and put it on the map." Petiprin and Manabat's new space, Homemakers, reflects on the welcome they both felt when they moved here. "Opening a business is a risk: you need so many resources, and Cincinnati is both tight-knit and accessible," Manabat says. "We have incubators and resources like Mortar that are open and welcoming. You don't find that in Paris, L.A. or New York."
Austin and Tony Ferrari, Fausto's at the CAC, Ferrari Barber & Coffee Company, Mom 'n' Em Coffee House
The Ferrari brothers made a name in San Francisco with Hillside Supperclub and Provender, but they knew that wasn't where their heart was. The brothers, who grew up in Clifton and worked at Biagio's as teens, missed their family, particularly their nieces, and as the tech boom made rents skyrocket, San Francisco was becoming untenable. "For the price we were paying for a one bedroom, we could own three things in Cincinnati," says Tony. "We knew if we moved back to Cincinnati, we could have a good life, travel, live right and give back."
"We want to bring something new, fresh and creative and help push Cincinnati forward," says Austin. "We're not being cocky. We just want to add to Cincinnati's culture and community."
And their attitude toward food and community reflects both their Cincinnati roots and San Francisco early adulthood: "We want to use local product that no one is using," says Tony. "We want to support good food systems. There are so many good farms and producers here. [Produce] is as beautiful as it is in the Bay Area, even if it's more expensive."
They love Cincinnati, not just because it's where they grew up, but because of the people and the culture. "So many people see Cincinnati as on the fire lane between the coasts," says Tony. "Cincinnati is balanced between East and West Coast mentalities. It's a melting pot; a mixture of people and diversity." They also want to bring some California sensibilities to Cincinnati, like eliminating plastic bags and restaurant composting, as well as lighter menus. "Cincinnati leans on pork and butter, which isn't bad, but we want to focus on something different," according to Austin.
Enter their new venture, Fausto's at the CAC, which joins Ferrari Barbershop and Coffee and Mom 'n' Em Coffee in their Cincinnati footprint. Named after their father, Fausto, who worked at the Maisonette and loves both music and food, the CAC restaurant space will become an all-day restaurant with a coffee bar, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and focus on California cuisine. The brothers love architecture (and preserving buildings here in Cincinnati), so they're working with DAAP artists on the space so that Fausto's feels a part of the space and "is respectful of [architecht Zaha] Hadid's lines." They are targeting an opening this summer.
"We are dreamers," Tony says. "We live for this work."
Steven Clement and Camilo Otalora, Lost and Found
What do you get when you combine a P&G marketing technologist and a bartender, neither of whom thought they'd stay in Cincinnati, much less open a business here?
You get Lost and Found, opening this summer in what used to be a garage in OTR. You also get two men who've made the thoughtful choice about joining a community – and welcoming others into it, too.
Otalora, who came to the U.S. at age 4 from Colombia, grew up in and around restaurants while living in L.A., Miami and Phoenix. He got a mechanical engineering and tuba degree as well as an MBA on the way, and landed an offer in 2011 from Procter & Gamble. I'll spend two years here and I'm out, he thought, until he got his first 500-foot apartment at the Belmain on Main Street in OTR and fell in love with the neighborhood.
Clement, who grew up on a farm in La Grange, Ohio, near Columbus, wanted to get out of his small town, so he moved to Columbus at 19 and then became a traveling salesperson in Cincinnati, while still doing hospitality part-time. He's best known for opening the bar at Salazar, where he served up creative cocktails in partnership with the kitchen, using techniques including preservation, vinegar-making and clarification.
The two men met at Neon's as they were hitting on the same girl. She left without either of them, but they ended up with a friendship and eventually as roommates. "Neon's was a meeting place at the time, a small community," says Otalera. "Cincinnati is built on community and relationships," says Clement. "It's a natural place for us to open a business."
On Cincinnati's reputation as being less than welcoming, both disagreed: "Some people might not be welcoming, but we have connected with the ones who are. We feel like small potatoes, because we know everyone," says Clement. "I stayed here for the relationships. People in Cincinnati are family."