"I think I've eaten enough," says Polly Campbell announcing her retirement as Cincinnati Enquirer restaurant critic and food writer on June 19.
Campbell has been one of the most influential – if not the most influential – person on the Greater Cincinnati food scene since her hiring in 1996. More than anyone, she chronicled the Vine Street restaurant explosion which fueled the revival of Over-the-Rhine.
She started writing about fine dining and full-service restaurants, with her face hidden by floppy hats in Enquirer photos. She evolved over the years to covering more casual food "that took me to Frisch's and fish festivals and dives… (and) endless lists of 'the best ______ in Cincinnati.' "
She critiqued everything from $60 steaks to $2 tacos. She ate chili for a month. She dutifully told us about the best burgers, bistros, barbecue, fried chicken and fish logs.
"Everyone wants to retire while they're still healthy and have time to try some new things. I do want to stay healthy, and that's been hard for me for a while," she wrote.
In a column last August, Campbell revealed that consequences of eating for a living: She was on the line between pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, and had lost 30 pounds in the past year.
"I have hovered around Type 2 diabetes for several years. I was able to keep it under control, but the constant exposure to delicious food is difficult to manage. A person can eat out in a healthy way, but you can't review a restaurant by just eating the salad. I think I've eaten enough." she wrote in her retirement announcement.
Campbell's stories were so popular that she became her own brand, says Beryl Love, Enquirer editor.
"For nearly a quarter of a century Polly Campbell has told the story of Cincinnati’s food scene with not only a critical eye, but with curiosity and a dash of hometown pride we can all relate to," Love says. "She became a brand in and of herself, evolving deftly as readers shifted to digital but holding true to a voice I can only describe as Pure Polly. Smart. Approachable. Relatable."
Campbell, the last remaining writer from the Enquirer's former art and entertainment staff, noted how the media and restaurant landscape has changed in 24 years. The Cincinnati restaurant beat was "small and specialized," and possible for one person to cover in 1996. There were two daily newspapers back then, and the Enquirer "was thick every day, and there was robust staff fueled by lots of ad dollars" before Craigslist, Yelp and a gazillion internet sources began providing information for free. As the food and dining universe grew, journalism contracted.
"I've seen dozens of my colleagues lose or leave their jobs," she says. "It’s been so strange for me to think that of all those amazing features journalists I was so intimidated by when I started, I was the last one standing. Never seemed right."
Tne Enquirer will hire a full-time food/dining writer to replace Campbell, Love says. "It’s one of our key topics and an important piece of our content strategy," he says.