The #StartupCincy scene includes hundreds of entrepreneurs working in incubator kitchens or developing technology around food-based businesses. A new exhibit produced by graduate students in Northern Kentucky University’s Public History Program, Culture Bites: Northern Kentucky's Food Traditions at the Behringer-Crawford Museum explores the impact of earlier food entrepreneurs, with a focus on restaurants and businesses established by immigrants. Handwritten address book from Glier's Goetta
“We wanted to talk about how immigrants have shaped our food choices and tastes,” says Dr. Brian Hackett, director of the masters in Public History Program. “What we found was that these outsiders quickly added to the Northern Kentucky mix by not only changing our palate but also our neighborhoods. We also wanted to show how outside becomes mainstream. In the past, Germans, Irish and Catholics were unwanted here, but now they are among the leading ethnicities in our community.”
New exhibit examines historical impact of immigrant food on NKY.The last half of the 19th century saw waves of arrivals from Europe fleeing famine and political turmoil, including Georg Finke, who moved from Germany to Covington and established Finke’s Goetta in 1876, the oldest family-run goetta producer in Northern Kentucky.
At the turn of the 20th century, political upheaval and two world wars launched a new wave of immigration to the United States, including Nicholas Sarakatsannis, who left Greece for Newport where he founded Dixie Chili.
“From my conversations with the restaurant owners, most came here because they already knew someone in the area,” says Maridith Yawl, BCM curator of collections. “They settled in Northern Kentucky with these people and opened the restaurants to serve them and others.”
Food, its production and consumption, is something all people have in common. Family recipes, conversations over dinner and cozy kitchens are memories and experiences nearly everyone shares. The exhibit offers a historical and contemporary perspective through the lens of food on a hot-button contemporary issue.
“Food and restaurants break down barriers, creating safe places for people to meet and create understanding,” says Laurie Risch, BCM's executive director.
Recent immigrants from China, Iran and Korea have also established themselves in Northern Kentucky and opened restaurants to share and celebrate the cuisine of their homelands. These restaurants include Mike Wong’s Oriental Wok, Jonathan Azami’s House of Grill and Bruce Kim’s Riverside Korean.
“They have contributed to the community, both in terms of serving food and being good stewards and helping out various local charities and events,” Yawl says. “They have each brought pieces of their homelands to the community. They love to serve friends from their own ethnic groups and also enjoy meeting people from different backgrounds and teaching them about their foods and culture.”
Adds Hackett: “We forget that we are all immigrants, and that immigrants shaped what we are now. Can you imagine Northern Kentucky without Germans or Catholics?”
The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 31, features interviews with these food entrepreneurs or their descendants, as well as artifacts from their businesses, political cartoons, vintage kitchen equipment and accessories and recipes for visitors to take home.
For more information, visit bcmuseum.org.