Food Trucks to Converge on Fountain Square This Wednesday Ahead of Taste of Cincinnati

On Wednesday, from 12pm to 2pm on Fountain Square, mystery diners will be judging food from 11 different food trucks at the Best of Taste Awards downtown. Those diners will try different types of food from the food trucks and score them on a survey.

With so many food trucks currently operating throughout the city, the idea is that the winners will get to participate at the popular Taste of Cincinnati.

“Food trucks have helped grow the Cincinnati region’s national culinary reputation,” said Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Communications Director, Rich Walburg. “As they expand their presence at Taste of Cincinnati, it’s only right that they be recognized for their efforts and successes.”

Walburg says that the event is also open to the public, so anyone can come and chose their favorites from vendors such as Adena’s Beefstroll, Catch-a-Fire Pizza, Just Jerks, Texas Joe’s Tex Mex; and dessert food trucks like Streetpops and Sugar Snap! Sweet Treats.

In order to accommodate the growing number of food trucks, which first started hitting Cincinnati’s streets in 2009, organizers of the Taste of Cincinnati will, for the second year, host a Food Truck Alley, sponsored by West Sixth Brewing, on the north and south ends of Broadway Street.

Out of those competing at tomorrow’s event, 15 will be granted spots to serve their dishes at Food Truck Alley, alongside live entertainment and seating.

An estimated 550,000 people are expected at this year’s Taste of Cincinnati – the nation’s first culinary arts festival. The event will take place between Saturday, May 28 and Monday, May 30, with more than 60 total restaurants and food trucks.

1940s Era OTR Auto Repair Shop Being Transformed Into Bar and Beer Garden

A former automotive repair shop called Queen City Radio is being re-purposed as a bar with a large outdoor beer garden in Over-the-Rhine.

Chris and Louisa Reckman, along with her brother, Gabriel Deutsch, recently bought the 7,665-square-foot property at 222 W. Twelfth Street due to its terrific location that is within close proximity to the Cincinnati Streetcar, Washington Park, Music Hall, and the Central Parkway protected bike lane.

First constructed in the 1940s as an auto repair shop that focused on car radio installation, the new owners say that they wanted to keep the historic name in order to create a warm new atmosphere for the community.

“We had the idea because every time we drove past it, we saw this ugly parking lot and we need more green space in Over the Rhine,” said Louisa.

To that end, Louisa says that QCR will be dog friendly in order to welcome the many dog owners in the neighborhood – including those visiting the dog park at Washington Park. Additionally, for the dog’s owners, there will be 14 beers on tap, including both local and national brews.

“We just want it to be easy-going – a place where anyone can come,” Louisa told UrbanCincy. “We just want it to be a place where everyone feels comfortable.”

Louisa and her brother have background in the restaurant and bar industry, while her husband works for Urban Expansion – a development organization that has helped renovate spaces that include establishments like Happy Belly and Goodfellas.

Local places like those, and others, are what they say motivated them to pursue such an endeavor.

“We love Neon’s and places like that, but there aren’t that many of them down here,” Louisa explained. “So we said, ‘let’s bring some more greenery…let’s beautify the place.’”

As of now, the team says that they are aiming for a July 4 opening.

Such timing would place them amongst the first of several other planned developments nearby, including an 88,000-square-foot office renovation, the new Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and a new 20-room boutique hotel.

Bikes ORO’s Millennial Founder Looking to Bring One-for-One Business Model to Bikes

A Cincinnati native hosted an Indiegogo, a website similar to Kickstarter, launch party this past Thursday at Rhinegeist Brewery for a company called Bikes of Reckless Optimism (Bikes ORO).

While the main objective of the company is to foster healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyles for everyone, Chelsea Koglmeier, the company’s founder, also hopes to create easier transportation for children in developing countries.

Koglmeier, a former employee at the Over-the-Rhine-based tech start-up Roadtrippers, said that she took a trip to Kampala, Uganda about a year ago and realized that most of the children in refugee camps there had to walk 8 to 10 kilometers (5 to 6 miles) just to get to school every day.

“Sending a seven-year-old out to do that twice in a day is a lot, and having access to a bicycle makes it a lot more reasonable for their families to let their kids go,” Koglmeier said.

In a business model akin to Toms Shoes, Bikes ORO benefits people in need around the world by using the revenues from bikes sold to help provide bikes to those individuals.

With the help of Perth-based design firm Flying Machine, each bike has its own unique design, with manufacturing taking place in Tianjin, China where two prototypes for the bikes have features like Gates Belt Drives instead of chains, three speeds, and an internally geared hub.

Koglmeier says the purpose of what she calls a “lifestyle business” is not to make lots of money or have a massive impact on those in developing countries. Rather, she hopes that by getting more people on bikes, instead of in cars, will help create better communities.

“I’m much more likely to waive at someone on the street than I am to waive at them when I’m in a car,” Koglmeier explained to UrbanCincy. “That means a lot for cities, and I think Over-the-Rhine is a great example of it. It’s powerful.”

After launching the crowdfunding campaign a week ago, Bikes ORO has already raised more than $20,000, with a goal of raising a total of $45,000 by the end of March. Helping the fundraising effort is the fact that the company has already produced several bikes that people can see and test.

“Because she has an actual, physical product, it’s not like people are giving money to invest in a company that will at some point do something,” said Tatiana Parent, a friend and colleague of Koglmeier. “Some of that money is people actually buying bikes, so it makes it a bit different than a typical Indiegogo campaign.”

At the Rhinegeist event, aptly named Bikes and Brews, people were donating money and took a look at some of the bikes.

“It’s great to see Chelsea with a big turn-out like this,” said Mike Morgan, from Covington. “She seems to have a pretty spiffy product and I kind of wish that they were already selling the bikes because I need a new commuter.”

The company launch has already grown beyond the Cincinnati market, with four other parties in three other cities pending.

The growth is something that is telling of both Bikes ORO’s product, but also the founder’s vision for healthier and more engaged communities.

“It encourages us to think about our world and how we’re taking care of it,” Koglmeier concluded. “It also, especially in city situations, creates this sort of community that you don’t get otherwise.”

Those interested in contributing to the campaign can do so by making a pledge through Bikes ORO’s Indiegogo campaign page.

MORTAR Looking To Empower Walnut Hills Residents, Entrepreneurs

Cincinnati’s redevelopment has been gaining momentum over the years, and Walnut Hills is seen by many as the next big thing. While it is not quite the next Over-the-Rhine, the largely black neighborhood has seen significant investment over the past several years, and is adding new businesses on what seems like a weekly basis. While community leaders are welcoming the attention, they are also hoping to maintain the essence of the neighborhood.

Just before the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation announced their comprehensive re-branding to focus on an inclusive and equitable approach to breathing new life into the neighborhood, the non-profit community development organization came together with a start-up organization that has been working in Over-the-Rhine to train and empower non-traditional entrepreneurs, often of minority background, to help power the redevelopment of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.

“Our emphasis has always been on working with residents who have been in the neighborhood even before it becomes the latest trendy place to be, because they’ve been there through it all,” said MORTAR co-founder and Brand Strategy & Director of Operations, Allen Woods.

By doing so, MORTAR hosts classes for students who are willing to learn and pitch their ideas to a room full of a diverse amount of people including friends, family, and possibly investors. They then guide entrepreneurs in how to start their own businesses.

Woods says that in Over-the-Rhine, where MORTAR has already graduated 15 members and enrolled another 17, the idea was to create a brand new dynamic for the area which has already experienced a huge amount of reinvestment. This is not necessarily what they have in mind for the Walnut Hills area.

“We want to have a different feeling than what you get when you go into Over-the-Rhine,” said Thea Munchel, Director of Development at Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We want vibrant, successful businesses, but we want them to represent Walnut Hills.”

One of the ways MORTAR intends to assist in that effort is by engaging with the community and listening to their innovative pitches at events where residents of the Walnut Hills area can present ideas of their own.

“We believe that is an essential part of community redevelopment,” Woods said. “How can you do that without engaging the community?”

They will also open up a 10,000-square-foot pop-up shop space called Brick 939, which will be similar to the one they have in Over-the-Rhine called Brick OTR. This, they say, helps local entrepreneurs activate a vacant storefront in the neighborhood, while also offering them space to test out their business model until they are able to develop their own space.

As of now, the plan is for the pop-up shop to open after Thanksgiving and run through the end of the year.

“There are lots of amazing entrepreneurs around Cincinnati, and who never really feel like they get the opportunity to shine,” said Woods. “So essentially what we want to build is an enormous spotlight for them to have a chance to showcase their skills and businesses.”

The money for the development is going to be coming from the community, a grant from the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, and the Local Initiative Support Corporation.

Project leaders say the development will be completed by November 20, 2015 with a grand opening on Black Friday.