2 restaurants expanding into Hamilton; 2 different stories of why

Two area restaurants opening second locations in Hamilton next year — Loveland’s Tano Bistro and Oxford’s Quarter Barrel — have different stories of what brings them to Butler County’s largest city.

Chef Gaetano Williams — for whom Tano Bistro is named — enjoys getting away to Hueston Woods’ cabins for weekends to do strategic planning or to just relax, and was impressed with Hamilton during each drive through town.

“I’ve done that about four times,” Williams said. “Every time I drove through here, whether it was early in the morning, or on the way out, I had a tug,” that told him “something’s here,” he said. “There’s an energy, there’s history, the buildings.”

Two years ago, Williams didn’t know his acquaintance Jim Cohen, president of Blue Ash-based CMC Properties, which built the Loveland Station apartment-and-restaurant in Loveland, was thinking about creating a similar project called The Marcum in Hamilton, across the street from both the downtown Marcum Park and Courtyard by Marriott.

Williams, who has been in the restaurant business 41 years, mentioned to a common friend of Cohen’s, who happened to be a real estate agent specializing in restaurants, that he was intrigued by Hamilton.

Williams told the agent, “There’s such a gold rush in Downtown Cincinnati, I kind of like Hamilton.”

“She goes, ‘Are you crazy?’” Williams recalled recently. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know. There’s something there.’”

Afterward, “Out of the blue, Cohen calls, and says, ‘Hey, I hear you like Hamilton,’” Williams said, adding Cohen made him a deal that was difficult to pass up.

In May, the Loveland building Tano Bistro was renting burned. Williams bought the burned Loveland building, with plans for rooftop dining, and banquet facilities on the second floor.

He hopes to reopen the Loveland location in late spring and open the 180-seat Hamilton location shortly after in the summer. He needs to hire 80-90 people between the two businesses. Meanwhile, he has opened a take-home meal business in Loveland called Take Home Tano.

Tano Bistro offers what Williams calls “great quality for a great price.”

“We’re going to make it as wide-ranging an approachable menu for everyone, but then we’ll start analyzing our menu to see what sells, what doesn’t sell, and make adjustments,” he said.

Tano, a chef-driven restaurant, focuses on seasonal menus, which change four times a year, with each season. Tomatoes, for example, are on the menu in the summer, but not in spring, when quality tomatoes are not available.

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Meanwhile, Quarter Barrel hopes to open a microbrewery and restaurant in January, with apossibility of New Year’s Eve, as mentioned by City Manager Joshua Smith during his November State of the City speech.

While the restaurant’s co-owner, Brandon Ney is making no promises about a New Year’s opening — “December’s going be inspection after inspection, and anything could be a setback,” he told the Journal-News — many in Hamilton are looking forward to the new rooftop restaurant and bar with views of the Great Miami River and downtown.

About three years ago, when Liz Hayden worked in the city’s Hamilton economic development department (she’s now the city’s director of planning), she showed Ney and a business partner a couple of locations, including the one at the southwest corner of B and Main streets.

“It’s a great location,” Ney said. “The view is what sold me, just being able to look out the window and see downtown and the bridge.”

Once the company was able to simplify its ownership structure and “could more or less self-direct our own brand with what we’d built in Oxford, we decided to listen more carefully to what Liz was saying,” Ney said.

The Hamilton restaurant will “still be cozy, but comfortable,” he said. The restaurant will have seating for 40 to 50 people, and shouldn’t be as crowded as the Oxford location, which opened in 2010, he said. Its chef is Patrick Karousis.

“I hope that people are excited for us to bring what we do to a better facility,” Ney said.

The rooftop area should open by the summer.

Quarter Barrel’s biggest sellers are a farm-raised burger and large flat breads called Lavosh. It also offers traditional American “up-casual bistro pub fare,” and comfort food, with nightly specials.

Hamilton’s economic development director, Jody Gunderson, said city government provided no financial assistance to Quarter Barrel. But with Tano’s, the non-profit Hamilton Community Improvement Corporation purchased $300,000 worth of kitchen equipment and retained ownership of the space, which it leases to the bistro.

“What they wanted to do is ensure they retained the ownership of it,” Gunderson said. “If we’re going to assist in any industry, we knew that was going to be a restaurant location that we wanted at that location, so whether it was Tano’s or someone else, at least the equipment would be in place and it could be used by the restaurateur that was occupying the space.”

Gunderson said he believes it was a good move by the Community Improvement Corporation, which receives most of its money from the city, because, “We’re trying to stagger the restaurants up and down our corridor, and want to mix in different types of retail with it, so obviously once you’ve identified a restaurant location, you definitely want to continue it in some form or fashion.”

In financing its new location, Quarter Barrel Hamilton took the unusual step of creating an online GoFundMe page to raise $40,000. As of late last week, it had raised $5,310 from 21 people over four months.

According to the GoFundMe page, “The capital outlay for this project is over a million dollars. We are seeking to crowd fund under four percent of the total budget, or about forty thousand dollars.”

Depending on the donation level, contributors receive a variety of items, including pint glasses, stickers, gift certificates or an eight-course dinner for four.

Ney said he and Williams, who met for the first time last month, are looking forward to having restaurants close together. They hope to create more of a Hamilton culinary working class of employees, to work at their establishments and others nearby. They already have reached out to Butler Tech’s culinary program about possible internships, Ney said.

Also with Hamilton, “there’s an excitement,” Williams said. “You can feel the resurgence. And my gut is when you look at Over-the-Rhine, everybody’s going down there,” but the area between Cincinnati and Dayton is really growing, he said.

“I think Hamilton is a really great place for us to cat-bird, whether we can pop another one or two up in the area, maybe Centerville, I don’t know,” he said. “This is a great place to settle. The size of the population, the diversity of the demographic, in terms of financially. More important is accessibility. The (Ohio) 129 corridor couldn’t have been better planned. It is a quick in-and-out.”

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