Camp Washington

photography by Michael Wilson

Cincinnati, Ohio —

A nationally renowned chili parlor, a wildly popular ravioli dinner, a coffee garden, and an urban farm with goats are among the many quirky things you’ll find in Camp Washington. Settled by workers seeking local meat-packing jobs, Camp Washington is one of Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhoods, dating to around 1845.

The Camp, as it’s affectionately called by many of its 1,500 mostly urban Appalachian residents, is a mix of 19th century homes, unused industrial spaces, and shuttered slaughterhouses. But many people priced out of the Northside and Over-the-Rhine markets are now seeking homes and business sites there, including a few fascinating food and beverage ventures.

Hundreds of gallons of sauce, thousands of meatballs, and more than a quarter of a million ravioli are served to more than 4,000 people (some of whom wait in line overnight) at a neighborhood tradition dating back to 1911: the Palm Sunday Ravioli Dinner at Sacred Heart Church.

Once packed with meat packers and factory workers, Camp Washington Chili has been serving ”chili-heads” from Cincinnati and all over the world from the corner of Hopple and Colerain Streets, in the heart of the neighborhood, since 1940. Over the years it has garnered plenty of national recognition for its version of Cincinnati chili. Travel + Leisure and Bon Appétit have named Camp Washington Chili to their national “best chili” lists. In 2000, the chili served by the restaurant won an “American Regional Classic” James Beard Foundation Award.

In response to Camp Washington being labeled a “food desert,” Camp Washington Community Board member Joe Gorman led the establishment of the Camp Washington Urban Farm in 2013. The urban farmland is situated next to River City Correctional Center, and inmates from the center often complete community service requirements by working on the farm. This past spring, they added two dairy goats and 30 chicks, and volunteers helped build a chicken coop.

The neighborhood is also home to CAMP: Camp Washington Art & Mobile Produce project. The project, funded by City of Cincinnati Engage Cincy grants through the City Manager’s office, is a creative way to get fresh produce and original art out to the neighborhood. Neighborhood resident Skip Cullen led the construction of the cart and bike, which is filled with produce from the Camp Washington Urban Farm. A volunteer pedals the cart to different locations in the neighborhood and distributes free produce to residents. The project also includes art activities such as coloring books with vegetables, recipes, and more.

In 2014, Cullen and his wife, Cal, transformed an old firehouse in Camp Washington into Wave Pool Gallery. Now the Cullens are working with Heartfelt Tidbits (a nonprofit supporting refugees and immigrants new to Cincinnati) to rehab a building across the street; later this year a café run by a Syrian refugee will begin serving tea, pastries, and lunch in one of the building’s two storefronts. Wave Pool and Heartfelt Tidbits are working together on a long-term plan to offer affordable apartments for refugee families on floors above the stores.

Slated to open later this year on Colerain Avenue near Camp Washington Chili is Mom N’ Nem coffee shop. Tony Ferrari, a Cincinnati native and cofounder of San Francisco’s Hillside Supper Club, plans to house the coffee shop in a 1969 31-foot Land Yacht Airstream trailer and is developing an adjoining coffee garden where patrons can enjoy an espresso while relaxing outdoors.

Craft beer juggernaut Rhinegeist has plans to build a 155,000-square-foot cold storage and distribution facility at the former Kahn’s meat processing plant on Spring Grove Avenue, which was shuttered in 2006 and demolished in 2012. Some residents hope to convince Rhinegeist to include a taproom in its plans for the site.

Keep your eye on The Camp. It’s a comer.

Camp Washington Community Board
2951 Sidney Ave., Cincinnati

A native of a rural farming community in northwest Ohio, Karen has spent more than 30 years writing grants and begging for money for a variety of good causes in southwest Ohio. She is currently at work on a sitcom about the crazy cast of characters one finds at a popular urban public market in the Midwest. She’ll work for pie or a good pot of soup.