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Daisy Mae buys building, expands downtown produce delivery

Daisy Mae's Market, the largest produce retailer at Findlay Market, delivers fresh produce to downtown businesses and restaurants weekly for a healthy break room option. Due to the overall success and high demand for deliveries within the past year, owner Barry Cooper decided to expand the storage space to a location near Findlay Market with more space for storage and preparation.

"We can carry more inventory and have a place to assemble and sort the orders," Barry said. "It is difficult to manage everything in a tent outside at the market. Now we have a place for storage with a cooler and assembly tables for the daily twenty to thirty orders."

Daisy Mae delivers to the Downtown area without any delivery charge and will travel as far as Norwood. If the need arises for further locations, Cooper says he is willing to entertain any sizeable office. Daisy Mae offers a few set packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, but will also customize orders to fit client's needs. Clients vary from large insurance, engineer, and architectural firms, to smaller businesses in the area.

The company also offers personalized orders for employees at businesses to take home, allowing customers to complete all of their produce shopping at the same time of the business drop off. Many business clients receive orders once or twice a week. Daisy Mae delivers Tuesday through Friday.

Cooper expressed his excitement for the delivery and market's future as they expand further in Over-the-Rhine.

"There is quite a buzz in OTR.  There is a sense that things are changing a bit with a lot of urban professionals moving in and new shopping arriving at Findlay Market."

Daisy Mae has also introduced new product lines to cater to different ethnic groups, which also brought in new clients.

"We are right on the crest of the idea of healthy living and people trying to eat better. Now we're filling a niche," Cooper says.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler

Mixologist brings craft cocktail lounge to Main Street

In the same way a passionate teacher can inspire their most reluctant pupil, Molly Wellman can make you love what you're drinking.

The self-taught mixologist is literally obsessed with cocktails. Her face lights up if you ask her a question about what you are drinking and she'll tell you where and when it was invented, and why. 

Last Thursday, standing inside Japp's, a turn of the 20th century wig shop at 1134 Main Street that was a bar during the 90s, Wellman described the new bar she'll be opening there this summer. It will give her a chance to practice her craft in a room which was built in what she calls "the golden era of craft cocktails."

Wellman and Michael Redmond, an owner of The Famous Neon's Unplugged - another Main Street bar mainstay that was revived in the past year, recently signed a lease on Japp's. They will re-model the space and re-open it this summer as a classic craft cocktail lounge.

The new Japp's will serve craft cocktails (no shots, Wellman says) and have period decor, with the help of a trove of wig signs and posters original to the shop. The expansive glass case behind the bar will be stocked full of liquor and the copper bar will be brought back to its original shape, Wellman said, so that its glow will make patrons look more beautiful. She said Japp's will feature some of the historic cocktails in her repertoire, but also give her a venue to get creative with new recipes.

Wellman's passion for cocktails began two and a half years ago, when she returned from San Francisco to "settle down" in Cincinnati. She landed a job at Chalk in Covington, where she was tasked with learning how to make classic cocktails. As she describes it, she immediately became obsessed.

"I was like a sponge absorbing as much knowledge as I could - living, eating, breathing...drinking these cocktails," she said. "Any bar I could get behind and make a fancy cocktail, I did."

Since then she has become a sort of celebrity bartender with over 2,000 friends on Facebook who are kept abreast of her guest bartending appearances, and her reputation landed her the deal at Japp's. Wellman is grateful for her popularity, but she says it's the liquor that people love so much, and the stories behind the drinks.

"Some people go to the bar and they'll order a gin and tonic and slurp it down and get another one," she said. "But with me, before they know it they're like 'oh wow, I'm drinking something that was invented by British soldiers to ward off malaria,' and they hold the glass a little differently when they walk off."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Iconic Price Hill building gets new life

Bill Kiffmeyer remembers how huge the players from the Cincinnati Reds looked to him as an eight year old boy when they visited his father's Price Hill dry cleaning shop. He also remembers how the sight of the shuttered shop would nearly bring his father to tears five decades later, after the neighborhood lost its luster and he had no choice but to close.

The Kiffmeyer's family business was located on the ground floor of an elegant apartment building originally called the Robinson. As Kiffmeyer recalls, it was the largest building around and was the centerpiece of a thriving West side neighborhood.

Today it stands as an eyesore, and the largest reminder of the neighborhood's decline. But a recent partnership between Price Hill Will and Model Group aims to change that. They have purchased the building and will turn it back into an apartment building.

"This is something that's sort of been the biggest drag on neighborhood, and when it's done it will be one of the biggest success stories," Price Hill Will's marketing director Matt Strauss said.

The building located at 8th and Elberon will be converted into 37 units of affordable housing for senior residents of Price Hill. The project will use several funding sources including a federal tax credit which requires the units to be available as affordable housing. The units will house seniors who are currently neighborhood residents, but will not be a care facility.

In addition to renovating and selling single family homes, Price Hill Will organizes an array of community outreach efforts ranging from litter pick-ups to neighborhood surveys. The Elberon building has been on their radar since before the group's inception, Strauss said, but was a far bigger project than any they had ever taken on.

"We've gone out of our comfort zone to get something really important accomplished," Strauss said.

Their partnership with Model Group, a private development firm with years of experience in affordable housing, allowed them to take on the project. Though Model owns the building, they will consult with Price Hill Will about design decisions and neighborhood impact, Model's development director David Thompson said.

For proud Westsiders like Kiffmeyer and current residents the project is heartening. Kiffmeyer recalled his first reaction when Strauss told him the building would be renovated was, "Can I move in?"

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Swap Shop and Last Bites pop up in OTR

Share Some Sugar Pop Up Swap Shop and Last Bites Bakery set up a "donation or trade" shop Main Street every Saturday. Located in the space next to Park + Vine until Model Group leases the space, you can bring unwanted items to donate, sell, or trade with others in the community. Items leftover are donated to Churches Active in Northside (CAIN), who is affiliated with five local drop-in centers, which donate items to families at the center in need.

Items range from clothes, books, old copiers, toys, and random household items. People come in looking for something different and usually find what they need. However, the shop is a different concept from Goodwill, as donations are free for those unable to afford everyday needs. The space not only gives back to the community, but also provides a space for people in the community to come together and socialize.

Jess Prussia, the owner of Last Bites Bakery, started to contribute to the donation shop in December after Park + Vine owner Dan Korman asked her to be a part of this charitable event. Prussia sells her bake goods as well as gives free samples every Saturday, and immediately fell in love with the concept.

"Recently a family came in to look for warmth," she recalls. "They asked how much the toys cost and they were shocked when they found out it was for free. The dad started crying because the free items gave the family a Christmas." 

Prussia hopes that the pop up shop concept will continue throughout the city in order to encourage charity and help vacant spaces be rented. She notes the great support of the Main Street area in enabled the pop up shop to happen.

"Main Street has grown massively and it is for the people who live there," she says. "Because of the desire to build Over-the-Rhine, the pop up shop has been a huge success.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Mannequin brings charitable boutique to Gateway Quarter

Mannequin, a new local charitable boutique located in Over-the-Rhine, brings a unique idea to the local retail market. Owner Moe Rouse drew on several inspirations in coming up with the idea.

As a member of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Rouse was part of NCJW's annual one day sale of donated clothing that raises money for various charitable projects. Rouse decided she could do more by turning this one-day sale into a continuous event. The merchandise in Mannequin will be either donated or bought from New York City and feature women's vintage and contemporary clothing, accessories, art, and antiques.  All of Mannequin's proceeds will go to various charities, such as Stop Aids, Tender Mercies, and Lighthouse Youth Services.

Rouse has the Mannequin space in the Gateway Quarter for free for one-year courtesy of the Northpointe Group in Cincinnati. Rouse expressed her satisfaction with the area as she connects with people who live and work in the area.

"People in the street have been totally pivotal in making this happen. I have made a lot of friends in the streets, which makes it very special. I am really connecting with those who live and work in the area," Rouse said.

Rouse notes that an important Cincinnati woman, Bobbie Corbean, also inspired her. A former stylist, model, and coordinator, Rouse says Bobbie Corbean always concerned herself with helping young women grow to their full potential. A fund for young women in Over-the-Rhine will receive money from the proceeds of sale items in the "Bobbie Corbean Corner" of Mannequin.

"I was captivated by Bobbie's Store. She had many of the same objectives that Mannequin has and we are fulfilling Bobbie's wishes," Rouse adds.

Mannequin's official grand opening will take place January 7, and the store will be open every Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm. Jim Rauth, a local author of the book "Mannequin," donated fifty copies of his work to the store and will offer a book signing on the opening day. 

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Washington Park construction will be in full swing for 2011

The bodies have been removed, the trees have been pruned and the massive renovation of Washington Park in Over the Rhine can be shifted into high gear this year.

By the end of this week the construction fence there will expand south to 12th street, capturing the entire park as a construction zone except a small section near the south entrance, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) Vice President for Development Chad Munitz said. Sometime in February, that small area will become a construction zone too.

Crews began working in the park in August, excavating human remains from old cemeteries there and making other preparations for the park's transformation. Construction began November 23. Since then, trees have been trimmed, fertilized and fenced-off so that construction equipment won't trample or damage their root systems during construction. Some existing features, including an old swimming pool, were demolished to make way for a new parking garage.

Later this week, after the fence encompasses the southern portion of the park, workers will begin demolishing the old pathways and installing new path, sewer, electric, and water systems. Thirty-foot-deep holes will be dug to accommodate a dry-well system that will prevent storm water runoff from entering the city's combined sewer system, Munitz said.

In the north end of the park, cranes are now lowering the outside walls into a 450-space, two-level parking garage. Excavation of the garage will continue for the next month and a half, and then its construction will begin, Munitz said.

Once the roof has been put on top of the garage, an events stage and 37,000 square foot lawn will be built on top of it. The lawn will be flanked to the south by an interactive water park with 350 programmable spouts that will spray water on those playing inside it. The northern end will also include a playground and dog park.

In February or March of 2012 the garage is slated to open to the public. The rest of the park will open, weather permitting, sometime in the spring of 2012, Munitz said.

Weekly updates on the construction progress will be released on 3CDC's website throughout the project.

The Washington Park renovation project is on a similar scale and construction timeline to the 2005 Fountain Square renovation, Munitz said. Both projects provided underground parking, cost just under $50 million, created a major events space and were completed on a roughly 18-month construction timetable.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Express yourself, Plan Cincinnati holds public sessions on neighborhood development

As part of Plan Cincinnati - the comprehensive city plan currently underway - the city planning department is working with BBC Research & Consulting and Starboard Strategy to develop a housing market study and needs your input.

The City has already hosted several working group meetings related to housing and neighborhood development for Plan Cincinnati, but is now seeking specific input related to the housing and neighborhood needs, wants, and desires of Cincinnati residents through three public sessions.

The goal of the public outreach sessions, according to planner Alex Peppers, is to learn what Cincinnati residents like best and least about living in the City's neighborhoods, what would make the residential experience better and more competitive with surrounding areas relative to housing, and to understand what housing types and costs residents desire. 

"We plan on having a large group discussion as well as a small group discussion to hear from residents and stakeholders.  We have also developed sets of questions to begin discussion and will have comment books for people to write down any ideas or thoughts as they come up.  A housing bingo game has been developed as an ice breaker (match a photograph of a housing type to a Cincinnati neighborhood in which it can be found). Also, a visual preference survey has been developed as an individual activity," Peppers said. 

The information gleaned from the sessions will be collected and included in a Housing Market Study produced by consultants BBC Research and Starboard Strategy.  Peppers says the study will be a major driver in the writing of the Housing and Neighborhood Development portion of Plan Cincinnati.

"Since this is a Comprehensive Plan, it will not be neighborhood specific, but the goal is to talk about our City's neighborhoods as a whole... [and] there will be some talk about different housing types in different neighborhoods, but overall this is meant to be comprehensive for all of Cincinnati." 

No matter what your level of expertise or interest, Peppers is encouraging all interested parties to attend one of three sessions being offered to the public.

"Homeowners, renters, interested residents, home builders, rental associations, housing authority representatives, developers, bankers, non-profits related to housing and neighborhood development, city representatives, young professionals, you name it.  We would like to see an array of representation at each individual session so that all opinions and thoughts are given," he said.

All three outreach sessions include the same content and format. To attend an upcoming session, please RSVP with your first meeting time/date preference and your second meeting time/date no later than noon on January 5th, 2011 to: alex.peppers@cincinnati-oh.gov

The scheduled sessions are:
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 – 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM or
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 – 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM or
Thursday, January 13th, 2011 – 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM.

Writer: Sean Rhiney
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Designers envision sustainable future for Cincinnati icon

A group of budding designers, architects and urban planers from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning are helping to breathe new life into one of the Queen City's most notable landmarks.

Thanks to a collaborative effort between Cincinnati Museum Center, DAAP and UC's Niehoff Urban Studio, 28 undergraduate and graduate students spent the fall quarter developing proposals in the aptly named course, "Envisioning a Sustainable Future for Cincinnati Museum Center and its District."

"They're looking collectively at this," says course co-instructor Michael Zaretsky, assistant professor of architecture at DAAP. He explains that the students split into five working groups, with each focusing on different aspects of sustainable development in the Queensgate neighborhood, where the Museum Center is located. Some students focused on the area itself, developing plans for an eco-industrial district complete with an urban greenspace that flows from the district's center to Cincinnati's downtown business district. Others focused on the Museum Center's home, historic Union Terminal.

Whether planning for the building or the area, all focused on sustainable design, multimodal transportation (think bike lanes, park-and-ride access, and walkable greenspace) and transforming Queensgate from a peripheral light-industrial wing of the city to a core neighborhood with a range of business and social attractions.

Architecture graduate students Erica Stauffer and Gary Williams took on Union Terminal as their project. Their proposed redesign of the famous structure includes reopening its signature ramps to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and a three-tiered internal layout that allows the building to serve as museum, gathering place and retail/social destination.

Both students said they understand their ideas may never make it past the finely-crafted architectural model and design proposal that they drafted. But an exact execution of ideas isn't the point, they say.

"The important point is envisioning an idea," Stauffer says. "It can really be the start of what the design can be."

Williams added that he gained a lot from the wide-open nature of the project.

"I think part of the point was not having budgets, and having less limitation than if we were on contract," he says.

And according to Zaretsky, that's a key to the project. Officials from Cincinnati Museum Center interviewed the students early in December to incorporate their proposals into their long-term planning for the facility. And the students' work is on display in the Union Terminal Rotunda, giving those most affected by the space - the people who use it for work and pleasure - a chance to consider, discuss and envision these students' sustainable ideas for the Cincinnati icon's future.

Writer: Matt Cunningham
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Yes brings fresh art and events to Main Street

Andrew Neyer doesn't want people to feel intimidated when they walk into his art space, or feel awkward when they leave.

So when he opened Yes gallery on Main Street in October he held a big game night - literally - with an 8-ft wide connect four, over-sized pickup sticks and a Cracker Barrel golf tee game the size of a twin bed. Each piece was labeled with a card like any sculpture at a gallery opening would, but guests played with them all night.

"It was a way to get people that aren't involved with art a chance to see things and interact with things they wouldn't have otherwise," he said. "But also art people can approach these objects as art pieces, and engage with them that way."

Yes, located at 1417 Main Street in Over the Rhine, is equal parts art gallery, events venue and pop-up shop. During their regular business hours - Thursday and Friday 4 to 10 p.m. and Saturday 12 to 4 p.m. - customers will find tables full of zines, racks of clothing and screen prints hanging on the wall. A "Print it Yourself" station allows them to print four existing designs onto shirts and aprons. Hand crafted tree ornaments, including a 3-inch wooden likeness of the Kroger Building, will be available through the holiday season.

"The initial mission statement or goal for the space was to basically create opportunities for artists to display their work and create opportunities for people to see new art, and acquire it at an affordable price," he said.

After graduating from art school in Baltimore, Neyer decided to move back home to Cincinnati and open an arts space on par with the ones popping up in New York or Los Angeles, and bring work from national and international artists here. He and two other local artists, Evan Halter and Alex Jameson, operate the space and use it as their studio.

Events, which occur most Friday nights, range from traditional gallery openings to a monthly grindhouse double-feature called Cincinnati Psych-OTR-onic Night. They have also held a pi๑ata party and the release for the latest issue of local literary zine Milk Money.

The traditional monthly gallery shows at Yes will always include something interactive, Neyer said, like a three-dimensional element or mini publication.

"When we represent artists we'll be collaborating with them in some way, instead of just hanging them on the wall," he said.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Pleasant Ridge wins Community Entertainment District designation

Like many neighborhood business districts, the main drag of Montgomery Road in Pleasant Ridge has lost a lot of life to big box developments by the expressway. But last week a group working to reverse that trend won five liquor licenses that they think will attract new restaurants, and new life, to Pleasant Ridge's old town center. 

The Pleasant Ridge Development Corporation (PRDC) succeeded in making Pleasant Ridge an official "Community Entertainment District" of Ohio last month, a designation that includes up to five liquor licenses from the State of Ohio. 

The licenses would typically cost a restaurant between $25,000 and $30,000 apiece through a broker, PRDC project manager Bryn Lewis said. This designation will allow five restaurants to save that entire cost.

The designation is the latest step in an ongoing collaboration between Pleasant Ridge and Kennedy Heights to create a destination arts and dining district on the two-mile stretch of Montgomery road that runs through the two neighborhoods. While Kennedy Heights has seen success attracting arts groups - most recently the Cincinnati Art Museum - Lewis thinks the Entertainment District designation will fill a crucial piece of the puzzle by adding more dining to the mix.

The first application for a license was turned in by Sam Yhdego, co-owner of the Ethiopian restaurant Emanu in Pleasant Ridge, the very day the designation went through.

"The profit margin when you have a liquor license is so much higher than when you don't." Yhdego said. "But if you go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy a liquor license, they will laugh at you. We were trying to find the cash to buy one, but it was too much."

Yhdego told Lewis about Emanu's efforts to secure a liquor license last March while Lewis was having dinner there. Afraid Emanu would close if they could not secure a license, Lewis began brainstorming ways to keep them in the neighborhood, and possibly attract more restaurants like it.

"I walked down the street after the meal, and store after store was vacant," he said. "I thought 'this would be a lot nicer if people were out here on the street at night,' and I looked at ways we could attract restaurants."

Lewis began researching liquor licenses, and he found the entertainment district designation which had been created in 2005.

The PRDC couldn't afford the application fee of $15,000 (the designations are typically won by for-profit developers,) but councilwoman Laure Quinlivan worked to change Cincinnati municipal code and make the fee downwardly flexible. That allowed the PRDC to apply without outside funding.

"This is a citizen-led action that's not dependent on an angel investor to come in and make it happen," Lewis said. "This is bootstrap ingenuity."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

'Bearcat Bubble' adds practice space and energy savings on UC campus

The University of Cincinnati gained its very own 24/7 practice field with the addition of an air-supported "Bearcat bubble" for the cold winter months. Athletes now have the ability to practice year-round in the new 75-foot-high and 370-foot-long bubble covering the new Sheakley Athletic Complex.

"The football players are excited and grateful to have the opportunity to use it. It gives us the ability to practice all year round with consistent conditions every time you are in there," according to UC Associate Sports Communication Director, Ryan Koslen. The field also benefits other varsity sports such as soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and eventually track and field

Before the addition of the practice field and bubble, athletes had limited conditioning and practice space. During the winter months they only had the ability to condition inside with the weight-room facility and indoor track.

"The football team couldn't get out until the spring. During the winter months, they practiced outside when they could, " Koslen added.

The Bubble and field provides 72,200 square feet of usable indoor space for athletic programs but also allowed the school to build a chilled water thermal storage tank underneath the short field to assist the air conditioning systems throughout campus. The addition provides the University $750,000 to $1 million in energy savings a year and adds to the "greening" of campus.

According to the University project manager of the complex, Barrett Bamberger, the bubble is energy efficient and less expensive than a permanent structure. The dome consists of two layers that trap air between the two layers, which results in a 40 percent energy savings. Natural daylight also passes through the translucent outer layer, allowing the limited use of electric lights during practices.

Because the bubble is transportable, it will only be inflated from November through February, and will return to a normal open-air practice field in the spring.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger
Photography provided by UC

County sustainability series expands on infrastructure, takes aim at finances

The Hamilton County Planning Partnership held the second installment of its four-seminar series, Sustainable Hamilton County this November, at the offices of process management consulting firm TechSolve. The focus of this second event, "Trends that are Changing our Communities," built off the series' first seminar, "The Built Environment: Retrofitting Cities, Communities and Neighborhoods."

"It is important to acknowledge that 'sustainable' or 'sustainability' or any other variation of the term is used so indiscriminately that it has lost meaning," says Catalina Landivar, senior planner at the Planning Partnership. "We are talking about reinventing our communities, reaching a balance, using our resources in an efficient way and providing and maintaining a[n excellent] quality of life for all residents."

The Nov. 19 event featured presentations by experts in housing trends, the relationship between the physical environment and public health, and panel discussions on the relationship between these topics and infrastructure that supports multiple modes of transportation.

Attendee Mike Lemon said he appreciated the seminars' proactive approach to redefining the community. "We can't be "waiting for superman" to fix our problems," he said. "[We] need to reverse the trend of 'designing out' healthy lifestyles."

The third seminar in the four-part Sustainable Hamilton County series is scheduled for Jan. 21 at the University of Cincinnati's Tangeman University Center. Its focal theme, "Fiscal Sustainability and Quality of Life in our Communities," will expand even further the concept of sustainable planning in the Greater Cincinnati area, says Landivar.

"All those topics center on people," she says. "Putting it in other words, what do we want our communities to look like? What are trends telling us about our own situation and what can we do about it? How can we pay for the type of community we want?"

The Jan. 21 seminar will be followed by a final session, "Sustainable Hamilton County: We Can Do It!" which is scheduled to take place March 11 at Xavier University. For more information on the Sustainable Hamilton County seminar series, visit the Hamilton County Planning Partnership's website

Writer: Matt Cunningham

Lululemon clothes fitness buffs, educates about healthier lifestyles

Lululemon is not only a fitness-clothing store, but one focused on educating the public about living a better and healthier lifestyle. The store sells athletic clothing for any kind of fitness activity, including yoga, dancing, and running. Lululemon originated in Vancouver and has opened stores throughout the country including a new showroom in Hyde Park Square.

Jennifer Basa, the store manager, had to choose an area of Cincinnati to open the showroom, which is a smaller version of a regular store, in order to see if Lululemon would succeed. Basa researched the area and found that Lululemon's market was already in Hyde Park - an area with a number of health conscious residents. Not only does Lululemon fit the location with its boutique atmosphere, but Basa felt it was easily accessible from many areas in the city.

"Hyde Park is a great location for a boutique atmosphere with lots of local businesses. We all help each other out," Basa explained.

The store is open three days a week in order for customers to check out the store. The showroom also offers a complimentary yoga class every Saturday morning, taught by yoga instructors in the area from different studios. During the week, five employees seek out local studios and fitness locations to support and help build a fitness community. Lululemon hopes to be the education fitness hub of the city, informing their customers about the top places to engage in fitness activities. 

"We do the leg work and tell you who you can trust in the community. We want you to leave Lululemon with a great lifestyle," Basa offered.

Basa believes Lululemon will thrive in the Cincinnati because of the established fitness community. 

"All of the powerhouses working together is inspiring," Basa said. "Lululemon can be the catalyst and hub for the studios and business owners that get together and work for a common cause in the community."

Lululemon practices what it preaches by getting involved with the community, educating customers about living a healthier and longer life, and maintaining their culture about fitness and goals.

"We are here for the community, to educate and to help anyone we can. I am so excited to bring this to Cincinnati because there is so much potential in the city and now I can contribute," Basa said. 

Writer: Lisa Ensminger

More than a flip, Home Restart's take on renovation

Mention "real estate flipping," and many people will come back with a less-than flattering image. Maybe it's a shady businessman whose idea of a "rehab" is a new coat of paint and a 200 percent bump in his asking price. Maybe it's a semi-employed hairdresser with more money than experience, whose end product is all style and no structure. It's enough to warn friends and family away from the risks of home ownership, regardless of the many rewards.

But there are others involved in the real estate rehabilitation business; professionals whose work walks the fine line between building in value and preserving profit in a rehab project. And these rehab experts are quietly improving the faces of some of the Queen City's most desirable neighborhoods.

Locally based Home Restart, LLC, falls into the latter category. The company reports it rehabbed seven homes this year, in neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Oakley, Edgewood and Fort Thomas, Kentucky. With gross profits on the projects ranging from $50,000 to more than $100,000 over the homes' purchase prices, one might wonder if the company simply "pretties up" the properties. According to vice president Anne Pond, the improvements are very real, and are meant to improve more than just the homes where they're installed.

"There are a plethora of homes on the market today, many of them short sales and distressed properties that bring down local property values," she says. "We saw an opportunity with Home Restart to help build property values in neighborhoods."

She explains that some of the homes Home Restart targets are foreclosed or abandoned properties. Others, however, may be homes where the owners, for various reasons, simply can't maintain a home of a given size or complexity. And while Pond notes that, in the end, the numbers have to make sense before they pursue a project, Home Restart looks for opportunities to make substantive improvements to the properties. They range from installation of high-efficiency windows and HVAC to converting an historic home from four-family back to single-family use.

Foreclosed, distressed and abandoned properties could well be considered the windows of Wilson and Kelling's "broken windows effect" - decay invites more decay, driving down the value of an area. No neighborhood, regardless of status, is safe from these problems. But work like that done by Home Restart goes beyond simple profiteering to do something much larger: it is a company tapping a lucrative market niche, for certain. But it's also a service, helping, house by house, to keep Cincinnati's neighborhoods beautiful.

Writer: Matt Cunningham

Tom + Chee goes full time on Court Street

When Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush decided to sell grilled cheese and tomato soup to ice skaters on Fountain Square last winter, not everyone was convinced it would work. The operators of the Square were skeptical that Ward, a freelance designer, and Quackenbush, a professional chef, could succeed where others had failed.

"They knew that this was our first venture, and the two [food vendors] before us hadn't done well at all," Ward said. "They were looking out for us, but we hassled them enough that they finally said 'just do it.'" 

The deciding factor was a batch of freshly cooked grilled cheeses that the men delivered to the 3CDC offices, Ward said.

Now, one year after they sold their first sandwich, the two men and their wives have opened a permanent restaurant location for their business, called Tom + Chee, on Court Street. They will serve lunch there starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The Tom + Chee menu offers simple grilled cheeses and tomato soups, but many of their sandwiches have a twist. Doughnuts are a bread option, and ingredients include bacon and barbeque potato chips. With the new space and an oven, Tom and Chee will soon offer pot pies and new sandwiches, including a complete line of peanut butter and jelly.

"It's comfort food for the masses," Ward said. "It's simple food that can be done well."

All soups, which are designed by Quackenbush, will have tomato and/or cheese as an ingredient.
Quackenbush's wife, Jennifer, and Ward now run the new location while their spouses work other jobs. Quackenbush said that their concept is successful because it's cheap, but most importantly because it offers food that makes people feel good.

"Some people walk by and they see 'grilled cheese,' and they giggle, then they walk back ten minutes later and order one," Quackenbush said. "If they don't know what they want for lunch, they can settle for some good, old childhood memories."

The new location is their first step towards a larger presence in Greater Cincinnati. They plan to eventually open other locations, specifically one near the University of Cincinnati Campus. There, Ward said, some of their more creative offerings will finally reach their full potential.

"Then you could get a grilled cheese with barbeque chips and bacon on a doughnut at three in the morning," he said. "That's the way it should be."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.
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