MORTAR is a resource hub for urban entrepreneurs across Cincinnati. We exist to invest in the people and solutions that will change our city; encouraging these empowered entrepreneurs to use their imaginations and creativity to not simply earn money, but to also make a difference in their communities.
Graduate of MORTAR Class #1, Means Cameron is a native born Cincinnatian. At a young age, he got his first taste of entrepreneurship as the neighborhood’s Candy Man. Soon after, Means realized that he could make more money selling shoes and clothing to people who wanted to dress the way he did.
Today, Means is Owner Operator of the clothing brand BlaCkOWned™ Outerwear. Since its launch in 2011, the brand has been recognized as Brand of The Year (Atlanta, GA, Ingrushi), Top 3 Cincinnati Men’s Boutiques (Cincinnati Magazine) and has had the day November 16th proclaimed as ‘BlaCk OWned Day’ in the city of Cincinnati. Means and his team are using the growing notoriety to create a brand that transcends race, generation and location. This same concept is the bases of Cameron’s new venture blaCk Coffee Lounge, which is a local ‘culture shop’ serving great coffee. One of his favorite quotes is “behind every great business owner is a better cup of coffee”. Through his contributions as an entrepreneur it is Means’ goal to inspire the community to move as a unit and to serve one another.
Sweets & Meats isn’t just about making money for Kristen Bailey. It’s also a way for her to give back to the community.
“Anton and I truly believe barbecue brings people together. Anton has always loved to cook, so we got our first smoker in 2012, and he learned…by calling his grandfather from Sylacauga, Alabama, and he remembers his grandfather would make smokers out of steel drums. The amount of prep that goes into it—the amount of love that goes into it—it’s like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, but we do it every day.
We literally started with an 8-foot table and a smoker in a parking lot, and we grew to having a food truck, then we got the restaurant. Now we have two food trucks. We’ve done that all in four years, and we’ve had over 30 percent growth every single year.
MORTAR equipped us with the support, resources and confidence we needed to take our business to the next level. 5 years later they’re still inspiring us.”
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.”
He plans to offer a diverse selection of brews, which will include local favorites like traditional American IPAs and stouts, as well as more complex beers like his award-winning Belgian quadruple, Nirvana.
Jackson picked a location that matches that sense of style and sophistication: the historic Paramount building in Walnut Hills, which was once known as Cincinnati’s “second downtown.”
Esoteric is not only committed to improving and updating the Paramount, but the community of Walnut Hills at large. Jackson and his marketing guru, Marvin Abrinica, are both minorities who appreciate the challenges of reviving a struggling neighborhood.
“Walnut Hills is such a metaphor for what’s going on in Cincinnati,” says Abrinica. “We chose a lotus as our logo because it’s a beautiful thing that grows from dark places.”
Jasmine Simpson owns ‘Jazzy Sweeties’, a Walnut Hills bakery that specializes in cheesecakes, parfaits, custom cakes and cookies. Jasmine has always had a passion for baking and had a great aunt who was a baker, but she hadn’t considered it as a viable career path until she was accepted into the MORTAR program.
She discovered Mortar on Facebook and considered applying for its first class, but nerves stopped her. When the deadline approached for the second class, she applied on the last possible night.
“When I got the email saying it was official (I was part of the class), I knew anything was possible,” she said.
Chanel Scales joined MORTAR in 2015 with a business named Shingo. She was looking for opportunities to increase exposure for her business and we connected her with an opportunity to curate fashion shows through P&G’s Cincinnati Music Festival.
MORTAR helped Chanel access space via one of our four Brick Pop Up Shop spaces, as well as capital through our Iron Chest Fund, giving her the opportunity to grow her business. She recently opened “Own Lane Shoetique” in the historic Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.
Due to her dedication and hard work, Chanel was named the OTR Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019.
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