From Backyard to Brick and Mortar: BBQ Business Uses SBA Resources Every Step of the Way


The idea for Cincinnati-based barbecue business Sweets and Meats began in Kristen Bailey’s backyard. She and her partner Anton would host cookouts, serving family recipes to their friends. As word spread about their food and many people began to encourage Kristen and Anton to open a restaurant.

In 2014, the two leaped into entrepreneurship, starting their business with a smoker, $500 in capital and a volunteer work force. For the first 18 months, the business did not have a payroll.

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A bold wall of vintage ads recalls Walnut Hills’ history of black-owned businesses

The slogan of the Andrew Hardin grocery in Walnut Hills was “The path that leads to satisfaction.” That was truth in advertising for African-Americans living in Cincinnati in the early and mid-20th century. Whether black families needed food, a florist, photographer or funeral planning, all roads led to Walnut Hills during the age of segregation. At Hardin’s and dozens of other black-owned businesses clustered near the intersection of Lincoln and Gilbert avenues, they knew they wouldn’t be turned away.

Residents over the age of 50 can still recall a bustling retail district where neighbors took care of neighbors. “Yeah, this was our place,” they’ve told Aprina Johnson, community coordinator for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation….
But a wheat-paste installation by artists Janet Creekmore and Ben Jason Neal is taking a trip down memory lane. Reproductions of old advertisements and fresh images inspired by the long-gone businesses cover a boarded-up building in the 900 block of Lincoln. The black and white artwork is part of a larger project that Johnson calls “a beautiful collision” of people with overlapping interests in art, history, urban redevelopment and social justice.

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Iconic Walnut Hills landmark to become city’s first minority-owned brewery

The graffiti-laden building at the corner of East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue, which towered above Peebles Corner when it opened in 1931, has been “down in the dumps for about 20 years,” Brian Jackson said. The first time they stepped inside, he and marketing partner Marvin Abrinica weren’t sure it was the home their company, Esoteric Brewing, needed.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, is this even doable, making something out of this space?'” Abrinica recalled.

CEO Jackson believed — and convinced Abrinica — that they could. He saw the potential for a restoration that moved the space into the future while preserving the art deco aesthetic that made it fashionable in the ’30s.

He wasn’t the only one. When Esoteric Brewing opens in 2019, it will be just one part of a $15-million-plus development meant to reinvigorate the heart of Walnut Hills.

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The new businesses, including a coffee shop and jazz club, sneaker store, video-themed bar, barbeque restaurant, and Brick Haus, a storefront for MORTAR, a nonprofit minority business accelerator program, are located in the Trevarren Flats buildings in Walnut Hills. More than 70 new jobs are projected to be created by the businesses, according to Cincinnati developer The Model Group.

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“There is a rich heritage of black businesses in Walnut Hills, so many successful businesses that were run by black residents. We want to be part of rebuilding that legacy,” said Allen Woods, one of three friends who launched MORTAR in 2014. Community leaders, who helped renovate the flats are hoping the Brick Haus helps revitalize Walnut Hills.

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#BlkWomeninBiz: Tyler Townsend

Tyler Townsend is a 26 years old Cincinnati Ohio native and mother of two. She is also the proud owner of Cincy Sweet Pot. Cincy Sweet Pot provides hemp and cbd infused edibles, oils, soaps and ingredients geared to improve the quality of life.

She began reading and researching the different ways people use cannabis. When she discovered the different foods that can be made with cannabis, she felt it was perfect fit as she was already an avid cooker; so she began creating her own edibles!

One of the first steps she took to truly explore this new venture, was attending the Mortar Cincinnati Entrepreneur program in 2016.

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Fabric of Humanity

I ask myself (and I ask you) to dig deep and ask what I’m actually willing to sacrifice for the place of our fellow human within this beautiful, sacred tapestry of humanity.  When the time requires us to step up – will you risk your comfort, your hopes and dreams, and say, “yes!”

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Cincinnati’s first minority-owned brewery coming to Walnut Hills in 2018

Beer is big in Cincinnati — it’s not exactly news. As breweries spring up around the Tristate, each one has to work hard to differentiate itself from a crowded craft beer market.

Recently announced Esoteric Brewing Company has several tactics for setting itself apart from others, starting with the fact that it will be the first minority-owned brewery in the city. Founder and CEO Brian Jackson honed his skills at MadTree before deciding to set off on his own; he’s also a MORTAR grad.

“’Esoteric’ means ‘sophistication,’” says Jackson. “We’re trying to elevate the palates of customers and the entire experience of people coming to breweries in Cincinnati.”

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The Lady’s Sparrow Period Pop-Up Shop

Last weekend, Lady’s Sparrow Foundation hosted The Period Pop-Up Shop at Innovation Alley in Covington to educate and empower young women when it comes to their bodies and health. The purpose of The Period Pop-Up Shop is to disrupt periods by eradicating the embarrassment and discomfort for young ladies and to equip parents with the necessary tools for this important conversation around womanhood.

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An old-fashioned touch on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner is the original Throwback Thursday. It’s a #TBT with a menu that might once have been normal to cook every day, but they’re foods we’ve gotten too busy and modern to make often.

Dinner rolls are one of those foods. Once, yeasty, soft, buttery rolls could have been on the dinner table anytime. Now, it takes a special occasion. Like Thanksgiving. Even though potatoes and stuffing and maybe sweet potatoes are on the menu, a pile of warm rolls wrapped in a cloth napkin makes the holiday meal complete.

More good rolls for Thanksgiving:

Gigi’s Kitchen makes rolls, either plain dinner rolls (Well, not plain. They’re nice and rich and buttery) or lightly sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. These rolls are served at the National Exemplar in Mariemont.

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MORTAR, after helping nearly 180 Cincinnati entrepreneurs, wins national SBA competition

Cincinnati’s MORTAR, the accelerator born in Over-the-Rhine to help entrepreneurial residents rise with their neighborhood, won a national Small Business Administration contest.

MORTAR, for the second year in a row, competed with other accelerators across the nation and won the U.S. SBA’s fourth Growth Accelerator Fund competition. It was one of 20 winners nationwide, which entitles it to a cash prize of $50,000.

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Why MORTAR is the BEST choice for entrepreneurs learning business

What I really liked about MORTAR is how personal, transparent, and active my teachers were because it built a student-teacher trust that you won’t find in most schools. Whenever we had questions, we received thorough answers. I also appreciate how productive our group discussions were. My peers were really respectful with answering each other’s questions if they had answers and were willing to share their information with everyone. You know how some people will know something but won’t give a lil help to anyone else because “it could hurt their own business,’ not realizing that sharing their “light” with others won’t diminish their own? Yeah. Not at MORTAR.

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Craft brewery coming to iconic Walnut Hills building

Esoteric Brewing Co. is coming to the $20 million Paramount Square development in the Paramount building at the corner of Gilbert Avenue and East McMillan Street. Co-founder and CEO Brian Jackson hopes to open it by the fourth quarter of 2018.

Jackson’s desire to open his own brewery brought him to Mortar, the Over-the-Rhine accelerator that got started to help entrepreneurial residents come up with the neighborhood. He was part of its first class in 2015 and even won the Judge’s Choice award at the pitch night.

It was at Mortar that Jackson met co-founder Marvin Abrinica, an 18-year Procter & Gamble alum who founded his own agency, Thrivera. Abrinica also founded Wunderfund, the region’s first equity crowdfunding platform that gives backers a piece of the company they’re investing in rather than a T-shirt or a mug.

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Brick OTR, Cincy Pop Shop give entrepreneurs and artists big bang for small bucks

Pop-up shops have been springing up in Cincinnati, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to temporarily rent space instead of committing to long-term rental agreements.

While the concept isn’t new, more small-business owners and entrepreneurs are utilizing pop-up shops to not only sell products and raise brand awareness but also to test business ideas in real time.

“Typically, we see a lot of lifestyle businesses, but the space is open to anyone in the area that has an exciting idea or is currently running a business,” said manager Victoria Sumners.

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John F. Barrett Entrepreneur Vision Awards presented by EO Cincinnati

What personality trait does being an entrepreneur require?
Patience and tenacity. There are times when you want things to happen more quickly, but if you have the patience to do – what you can when you can – and allow the rest to fall into place, entrepreneurship can be a wonderful journey. There are times when it’s difficult and you want to quit, so tenacity allows you to continue moving towards your goal even when everything around you tells you to give up.

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L. Mari Catering

There are a variety of events that L. Mari Catering covers for its clients. “We provide catering services; whether it’s an intimate affair for ten people, a corporate luncheon, or a larger scale event of 300 people-we are able to accommodate you,” she says. “We also provide weekly meal preparation to clients who may find it easier to free up sometime and allow us to cook their meals for the week! Lastly, we have hosted events and have done many pop-up events, along with festivals!” Some of the foods that L. Mari Catering offers is butter chicken, blackened salmon, spiced Hennessy wings, seafood pasta, Cajun shrimp and pepper medley, Halal options, vegan black bean chili and more.

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It’s About the RELATIONSHIP.

I don’t really concern myself too much with the thoughts or opinions of people I don’t know or care about.  They don’t detract from my performance, nor do they distract me from my purpose or goals. But let me be at odds with someone I love, or who is supposed to love me.  When there’s a conflict at the office, or a family dispute, my energy levels can drain like a wilting grain of grass in Phoenix heat.

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SBA “Bridges to Success” Roundtable

During the “Bridges to Success” roundtable with minority-owned small businesses, both Chabot and Garcia addressed questions from the 90 participants ranging from government contracting certifications, access to capital and other challenges that small businesses face.

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AOL co-founder Steve Case promotes Cincy start-up scene

This time, Case’s hour-long visit last week was more of a check-in sandwiched between other meetings in town, but it was long enough to inspire folks like William Thomas.

Thomas, a Cincinnati native and graduate of Wittenberg University, is a co-founder of MORTAR, which helps underserved businesses and entrepreneurs succeed.

“Since the last time he was here in 2014, the ecosystem has been built out significantly,” Thomas said. “MORTAR was just getting started, OCEAN (a faith-based business accelerator) was not started, Hillman (a business accelerator focusing on minority- and women-owned businesses) wasn’t wasn’t even here.”

“Three years later the ecosystem is starting to thrive,” he said. “It is building up, and more and more organizations are taking part in what’s going on here in the Cincy start-up scene.”

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Attached at the Hip: How Choosing the Right Partner(ship) can Make or Break your Vision

At the end of the day, this is a difficult process.  Picking the wrong partner and/or partnership can not only hinder the progress of your organization, it can also lead to its ultimate demise.  But if it makes you feel any better, no person is perfect.  We all make mistakes, which is why I encourage you to follow your heart (rule #1) and fully invest in the decision you’ve made.

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Living, working and volunteering in West End, Tia and Michael Brown make change

“We don’t consider ourselves to be activists. It’s not like that. We just feel called down here,” Tia Brown said. “Let’s lift up the people who have been here. We want to be here with you.”

The West End has historically been an African American neighborhood, part of Cincinnati’s urban core.  Divided by Interstate 75 in the 1950s, the community has high poverty levels and a low homeownership rate. The neighborhood lost housing, residents and schools in the last half of the 20th century.

But in recent years, as redevelopment has moved out from Cincinnati’s central business district and Over-The-Rhine, the West End has seen renewed interest and community energy. Tia’s position at Seven Hills was made possible by funding from Place Matters and support from LISC of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The West End is a Place Matters community.

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Entrepreneurs dream up tasty food trucks featuring best-of dishes

What sets you apart? What makes your food truck special?
“We try to deliver the full BBQ culinary experience. Not only do we have the best in smoked meats, but we also focus on made-from-scratch sides and desserts. Quality is always important and customer service is second to none.”

Sweets & Meats menu features ribs and brisket, plus rotating dishes like smoked meatloaf, the BBQ 4-Way, the Triple Bypass Sandwich, smoked pork belly, rib tips and bacon wrapped pork loin. Homemade sides include mac ‘n’ cheese and sweet potato casserole, and you can’t forget the desserts.

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Network to Achieve Your Goals!

Recently, I attended a session about the power of networking to help achieve goals and how this change in mindset about networking can entirely change one’s networking experience.  The session facilitator demonstrated how it worked by having a participant share a goal they have and then having the rest of the group identify if they or someone they know could help achieve that goal.  

The results were outstanding and incredibly eye opening for me.  At the time, I was in a space of experiencing an incredible amount of anxiety around a situation at work to transition into the leadership role that I desired.  I was lacking confidence about my capabilities – unsure I had the know how to be successful.  The impact of the stress it was giving me was taking a toll.

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Crew Love [Intern Edition]: Andres Contreras

Why does the work that MORTAR is doing in communities matter?
To me is very simple, everyone deserves a fair shot at succeeding. When the system hinders the possibilities of a group of people, something must be done. MORTAR’s approach is unconventional, inventive and creative, and above all is working! 
Government can not solve all social issues, and that’s where community members step in.

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Mount Washington BBQ restaurant, born from a food truck, sets opening date

The restaurant will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday with the food truck remaining in operation and focusing on private events and festivals. In the meantime, the food truck has been parked and serving in the parking lot of the new location to drum up excitement.

“We’ve been seeing people take our food into Standberry Park, and to me that’s awesome,” Bailey said. “Several areas have been hit hard by drugs, and there’s a lot of negative stuff that’s happened in the park, but there’s a lot of positive things going on, and it’s nice to see people taking their food into the park and having lunch with their families.”

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There is Power in Being on the Outside

Allen Woods has dedicated his career to empowering minority business owners, bringing people who often feel like outsiders into the entrepreneurial community. In his TEDx talk, Woods talks about how growing up an outsider in his own surroundings shaped his understanding and commitment to his business.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

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Q&A with Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ

After you find your passion that’s when success starts poking through. Once Kristen Bailey and Anton Gaffney decided to set out on the road with Sweets & Meats BBQ they never looked back. Even more so than that, they have set their sights on new and upcoming ventures to expand their business.

“My favorite thing about the food truck is that everything is so close together. You always know where to find everything because it has to be super organized because it’s so small. It’s also really nice working with everyone so close together because it’s really comfortable. We feel like a family on the truck. So that’s my favorite thing about it.”

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My Experience... Food Truck Exclusive with Sweets & Meats BBQ

“My dad has always really liked to cook… he worked his way up to buy the truck.” Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ brags on her dad (and his bbq) in this food truck exclusive. Read about their expanding business in this Q&A: #HubertExperience #FathersDay

Posted by Hubert Company on Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sweets & Meats – Food Truck Exclusive (Father’s Day Edition)

“My dad has always really liked to cook… he worked his way up to buy the truck.”
Brittany Anderson from Sweets & Meats BBQ brags on her dad (and his bbq) in this food truck exclusive.

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Miranda Millard: Laughter and MORTAR

We want to continue to enrich the entrepreneur. I think that’s what is different about us. There’s different accelerators and incubators but for us, one, the demographic of people that we serve, but two, the sense of building community is really, really important to us, so it’s not like, “All right, you did your 12 weeks. Good luck. See ya later!” No, you’re the family of Mortar now. When you think about entrepreneurship, typically your friends and family is who supports you. Well, if you don’t have a great support network, who do you have? That’s our whole goal, is to become the friends and family of the entrepreneurs that we serve.

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Two Cincinnatians join Echoing Green’s 2017 Fellowship Announcement

“Selection as an Echoing Green fellow means the world to me and Derrick,” says MORTAR Creative Director and Founding Partner Allen Woods. “This fellowship opportunity will allow us to not only grow and develop as leaders, but also leverage resources to better support the entrepreneurs and communities we serve in Cincinnati. Being a part of this valued community will give us the tools and connections to explore our long-term sustainability model as well as what a MORTAR expansion could look like.”

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BRICK Haus – Grand Opening #BRICKpopupshops

There, you’ll find an amazing assortment of products from MORTAR grads, @OATW, @GoodCoApparel, @MasterpieceMens, @NOVEdecor, @GiGiRolls, @WeAreMORTAR, @PaleoliciousCincy, @ByDistrict78, @CamsCrochet AND MORE!!

SUNDAY: 12pm-5pm

This is only the beginning…….
🎶: @BaokuMose

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Kristen Bailey – Sweets & Meats BBQ

MORTAR was the first organization that said “yes, you can.” The small business accelerator introduced us to a plethora of resources, including Mike Mulligan, our SCORE mentor and Lew Goldfarb, founder of ECDC; who has taken us on as a client and offered pro bono legal work for the past year. Our goal was always to open a restaurant. We needed people who believed in and would support us, in addition to providing some guidance along the way. I remember ordering our custom trailer during week 7 of our 9 week curriculum and not even having the deposit. Now, we are operating the trailer full time and opening a brick and mortar location, enabling us to have our own commissary for catering in addition to serving guests on a regular basis from a central location.

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Crew Love [Alumni Edition]: Katy Dietz – Green Man Twist

Originally our team started through relationships as neighbors in Walnut Hills. Seeing a desire in our neighborhood for work instead of labor. As the brainstorm turned into a reality Green Man Twist formed, as a business to truly bring the community together as well as create space for entrepreneurship training through the business. As RH always said “The problem is we don’t know each other.” Green Man Twist is a space that people from all walks of life can come and have a delicious treat and get to know their neighbors.

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Vy’s Mahope Cambodian Cuisine: BRINGING HOPE THROUGH FOOD

Although Vy is busy taking care of her children and elderly parents, she has long had the dream of opening her own Cambodian-style eatery. Things began to take shape last year, when she took a course with Cincinnati entrepreneurship program Mortar, whose mission is to enable under-served entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed. With their help, Vy hopes to put Cambodian cuisine on the map in Cincinnati. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and for me lots of things are falling into place at this moment.”

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Growing up, she never expected this would be her plan. Early-Coleman always figured there were “enough” blogs out there and didn’t think she could make a difference. But luckily, through conversations with business owners and creative, she realized her voice and perspective do matter, and she couldn’t be more right.

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West End Art Gallery

“We like to attend community events in and around the West End to engage the residents and bring community art activity to events, such as, paint and peels and paint by numbers,” Brown says. “It gives us a chance to connect, get feedback on workshops they would like to attend, and let them know who we are. We have attended a number of events with the Seven Hills Neighborhood House, Carl H. Lindner YMCA, and Mortar Cincinnati.” She adds, “And by keeping the WEAG a family-friendly space, [patrons] can create art of their own while helping to build community.”

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MORTAR grad to serve up Cambodian food at Urban Artifact brewery

Sok is a home cook and all of her recipes come from her mother. Opening a restaurant was always a dream of hers, but it didn’t feel real until her sister-in-law who was also going through the Mortar program encouraged her to sign up for the accelerator.

“Mortar lit that fire in me in trying to be an entrepreneur,” Sok said. “It’s not all talk anymore, everything’s going and all the things I’ve wanted Mortar has helped me obtain.”

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Drawnversation helps people and businesses communicate without words

MORTAR graduate Brandon Black doesn’t believe we have to communicate with words.

“Words are a useful tool but they’re not the only tool,” says Black, who last year was awarded one of two prestigious Haile Fellowships by People’s Liberty. “Drawnversation means to have conversations through images and pictures.”

Drawnversation provides graphic facilitation and graphic recording for people and businesses looking for new ways to communicate ideas. Black defined graphic facilitation as utilizing drawn imagery and words to enhance a process or communicate an idea, so that people are able to see the ideas in front of them. Graphic recording is the art of capturing communication in a visual format.

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The Green Elephant Arrives in 2018

“My mission is to bring play time back to its natural state by combining wholesome foods and organic play in a relaxing atmosphere that parents and children can enjoy together. We will focus on green living, minimizing the use of plastics and chemicals,” says Renee Laguna, founder of Green Elephant. “Green Elephant will include an indoor play area, a café that serves fresh, organic baked items from Nay Mama’s Sweet Treats, natural and healthy foods from other local eateries and retail items related to natural food and parenting sourced from local and global natural retailers.”

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Green Man Twist Ice-cream Trailer pays Homage to the Myth of Walnut Hills’ ‘Green Man’

“I wanted to bring the neighborhood back together,” Sweeten said. “We started thinking about what makes people happy: good music, ice cream and people mingling.”

Dietz met Leeman and the others through a student group at the University of Cincinnati called MUD (Mission Urban Development), for which she would volunteer to help fix up houses in Walnut Hills. She developed Green Man Twist last spring as part of Over-the-Rhine’s MORTAR program, which teaches entrepreneurship classes and helps people develop business ideas. But it took the group another year to launch Green Man Twist.

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