New restaurants coming to East Walnut Hills, Oakley, and Madisonville

Everyone understands the basic concept of a food and beverage establishment: you pay a markup over what food would cost to prepare at home for the convenience of having someone else prepare and serve it for you. However, if you haven’t worked in a restaurant, it’s difficult to understand its many complexities. Proprietors of food and beverage hospitality are dependent on many suppliers for menu ingredients, cleaning and office supplies, and many other commodities. A failure to receive any of these materials on time creates significant disruptions.

Then there’s the issue of staffing. Restaurant work is notoriously low-paying (wages grew substantially post-COVID, but only slightly outpaced inflation) and physically demanding. The Great Resignation impacted this industry disproportionately, coupled with approximately one in six eateries closing their doors during the pandemic.

It requires capital, resilience, and vision to launch a restaurant or bar amid a fiercely competitive and complex landscape. Here’s a look at the owners of three owners looking to open restaurants soon (though one is currently ensnared in bureaucracy).

Annie Oakley’s
Oakley has undergone a Pygmalion-like transformation from Hyde Park’s sleepy neighbor to a trendy destination neighborhood replete with fun, eclectic shops, and restaurants. Driving south on Madison Road, drivers passing under a railroad trestle entering the neighborhood are greeted by a vibrant mural paying tribute to the community’s namesake, legendary late 19th/early 20th century shootist and Ohio native Annie Oakley (real name Phoebe Ann Moses but would such a biblical surname have been as attractive to potential residents?).

Co-owners Bill Childers and John Smith aim to provide a testament of Annie Oakley’s fame on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show - and overlooked status as a former area resident - with an eponymous rustic recreation of a frontier saloon. The duo has collaborated on a number of successful hospitality concepts such as Columbia Tusculum’s Local Post and Walnut Hills’ Twenties. Smith is also a real estate developer and handles most of the property management. Childers is a hospitality veteran who moved to Cincinnati from Florida to partner with Smith. For years, they had planned the bar’s location on Allston Street on the site of a former car dealership, but COVID-19 shelved plans until now.

With an opening targeted for early spring, a walk through Annie Oakley’s swinging doors feels like a walk back in time. Woodworking reclaimed from old houses and churches, including the original factory’s front door, provides a rugged ambience. Bar manager Britton de la Chapelle intricately laser-etched graphics into Annie Oakley’s  mahogany bar that highlight Annie Oakley’s colorful life story and skill. Behind the bar, bourbon and whiskey (if you know the difference, you know) will be the star performers with a full bar, beer and wine. Childers said an Old Fashioned would be its signature libation.

A conceptual rendering of a Wild West-themed wrap that will grace Annie Oakley’s exterior walls. Oakley-based KN8 Designs will produce and install the wrap.

A 28-foot-long, custom-built banquette will allow 20 or so people to sit end-to-end along the bar’s back wall, a clear invitation for some conviviality and frontier-style tall tales. What would a bar be without a roomful of colorful embellishments?

Kn8 Designs, an Oakley-based architectural-wrap outfit, will decorate its exterior walls with printed graphics that practically beg for a harmonica, tumbleweeds, and the thundering hoofbeats of a stagecoach’s steed. The wrap replicates the rugged facades of a Wild West bank and hoosegow, which were equally essential to saloons in the growth of a frontier boomtown.

Childers reflected on the profound changes of hospitality management in the post-COVID world and noted that employee retention remains a challenge. He said that he and Smith have been fortunate to have cultivated a positive culture at their establishments, and they’ve managed to retain their employees for an average tenure of two years.

The days shortly before a new hospitality concept opens can simply be described as fluid. The roster of craft cocktails is still up for discussion, as is the playlist. One thing is for certain: the ambiance of the hardscrabble frontier that Annie Oakley knew in her day will be brought to life in her namesake neighborhood.

6 ’N The Mornin’
When Trey Graham graduated from Florida State University with a business-management degree, becoming an entrepreneur was not on his radar. Neither was it during his tenure as a corporate manager at Macy’s. However, after moving from Atlanta to Cincinnati in June 2019 and being furloughed from his job during the pandemic’s depths, Graham had a revelation.

“No matter how good you are at your job, unless you work for yourself, you’re expendable,” he said. “This was when I became an entrepreneur.”

With some financial assistance, Graham and his brother, Josh Long, who moved from New Orleans to Cincinnati after returning from a military deployment, opened 6 ’N The Mornin’, a Southern-infused breakfast and brunch carryout in Kenwood in summer 2022 after two and a half years of work. Despite Cincinnati’s relative proximity to the South, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles and other breakfast staples loved below the Mason-Dixon line remain difficult to find here. Graham and Josh, who now serves as operations manager, stepped into fill the void.

Trey said that response was overwhelming. “Their positive feedback inspired us to think about going to the next level and opening a full-service restaurant with mimosas and craft cocktails.”

Trey and Josh weathered the challenges of post-pandemic restaurant operations. He said they began with a staff of 11 at the Kenwood location and had three workers when they closed down at the end of January to focus on their new location. They looked at several downtown properties but couldn’t find a logistical and financial match. Their realtors, Rachel Thompson and Gabriela Constantini of 3CRE Commercial Real Estate, alerted him to the former location of the Littlefield Group’s restaurant Branch at the interaction of Madison Rd. and Woodburn Ave. in East Walnut Hills. The Art Deco décor of the former bank sparked Graham’s imagination. Graham purchased the property in January and the renovations immediately began for the anticipated early spring grand opening. Not to worry, Branch’s original sconces and owl chandelier that provide the property’s character will stay.

The basement, which had previously been Branch’s companion bar, Drop, will become an alter ego, 6 @ Nite, with more than 20 beers on tap, spoken-word performances and other live entertainment. A mural with a decidedly ‘90s-nostalgia vibe, completed by Often Seen Rarely Spoken, an artists’ collective that works in Louisville and Greater Cincinnati, decks out the basement walls. Both Mornin’ and 6 @ Nite will feature DJ booths, where jockeys will play ‘90s-vintage R&B. A courtyard area in the back will feature a hookah bar and quick-service food such as hot dogs and nachos served from within a kitchen-retrofitted shipping container.

The Mornin’ dining room will feature multiple 65- and 85-inch TVs to encourage Reds, Bengals, and FC Cincinnati fans to support their teams over dishes such as Hattiesburg Hash (corned beef hash, cheese and eggs over grits or Southern-style home fries) and mimosas. With operating hours from 6 am - 2 am, 6 ’N The Mornin’ will take the concept of all-day breakfast to a new stratosphere. “One thing I missed about Atlanta was being able to get great food any time of day,” he said. “We look forward to being providing the city of Cincinnati with great food almost around the clock.”

Trey and Josh have ambitious plans for the 6 ’N The Mornin’ brand. They plan to open a Columbus location sometime next year, want to expand throughout the Midwest within three years, and expand further west to Texas, Las Vegas and/or California within five.

Ryan Saadawi operated the Hurry Curry concept as a popular food truck during the 2020 pandemic peak. He’s looking forward to reprising it as a carryout operation in Madisonville.

Hurry Curry
Ryan Saadawi grew up the son of restaurateurs, but when he left Saudi Arabia to matriculate at UC to study chemistry, he didn’t envision this career path for himself. However, after earning his Ph.D. there and working for three years as a chemist at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), his partner, Liz Field, asked him to help develop the Cheesecakery, and persuaded him to make an unconventional career swerve. The Whetsel Rd. purveyor of coffee drinks, mini cheesecakes and gargantuan pastries eventually became a Madisonville destination for anyone with a sweet tooth. Saadawi said lessons learned in a chemistry lab translate well to succeeding in foodservice.

“A recipe is like a chemical formula,” he explained. “You create specific conditions to get a chemical reaction, and you follow steps and apply heat or pressure to process ingredients into a finished product. A successful recipe is replicated, like an experiment, and adapted to scale to produce larger quantities.”

As the pandemic temporarily slowed the Cheesecakery’s business and eliminated dine-in patrons for several months, Saadawi used his extra free time to open a food truck, which he named Hurry Curry, using the Cheesecakery’s fleet redecorated with new graphics. For approximately five months from late spring through early fall 2020, he traversed Cincinnati’s east side peddling a variety of curried entries, both the well-loved green, yellow, and red curries, plus an array or rotating dishes. It was a great success, but as the Cheesecakery eventually resumed a thriving volume of business, he returned to help Liz and Hurry Curry was put on pause. Shelved, but not forgotten.

“Years later, we still had people saying how much they enjoyed Hurry Curry and wishing it was still running,” Saadawi said. “This was gratifying to hear and inspired me to think about future possibilities.”

In December, he rented a small 400-square-foot shop from Liz on Bramble Avenue to open a carryout-only version of Hurry Curry. Saadawi aims to meld traditional pan-Asian flavors with elements more pleasing and familiar to the American palate.

“’Americanizing’ international cuisine is about more than just toning down the spiciness,” he said. “It also means adding some familiar elements to help ease them out of a comfort zone to try something different.”

One such example is a curried tomato soup with cheese grilled on naan, a zesty twist on the classic. For those with greater culinary curiosity, there will still be ample exotic flavors.

“When I first moved here [in the mid-00s], it was very difficult to find authentic Middle Eastern spices. Now, thanks to Amazon and other global marketplaces, it’s not hard to find anything.”

In addition to curry, cumin, and cardamom, another signature ingredient, is black seed (aka nigella sativa), an aromatic spice with a subtle, complex flavor that’s a versatile addition to many dishes. Again, like chemistry, a sense of intellectual curiosity and acceptance of trial-and-error is a hallmark of mastering culinary success.

In addition to red, yellow, and green curries, signature dishes will include sweet and spicy chili, flavored by brown sugar and varied peppers, and rotating soups such as Moroccan chickpea stew.

Unfortunately, Hurry Curry has hit snags. Saadawi has been asked to adapt entrees to be ADA compliant, and the Board of Health is seeking repairs to gain permits to change occupancy and upgrade plumbing and ventilation. He’s hopeful to open by summer but knows there are no guarantees.

Even if opening the new Hurry Curry incarnation must wait, Saadawi has already made a neighborly connection. Although he has no dine-in capacity, the adjacent bar, The Bramble Patch, will allow his customers to eat inside.

“We don’t serve alcohol, so it’s a win-win,” he said. “Madisonville has gained a lot of new businesses in recent years, and we’re all invested in the neighborhood’s success.”
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Read more articles by Steve Aust.

Steve is a freelance writer and editor, father, and husband who enjoys cooking, exercise, travel, and reading. A native of Fort Thomas who spent his collegiate and early-adulthood years in Georgia, marriage brought him across the river, where he now resides in Oakley.