The MORTAR co-founder talks about his drive to democratize entrepreneurship.
portrait by Michael Wilson
What inspired MORTAR?
When [MORTAR cofounder William Thomas and I] walked around OTR, we saw people like us, and then we walked into establishments and the dynamic flipped. We wondered, could neighborhood residents participate in the changes happening around them? We wanted to provide the tools and resources to help entrepreneurs.
You call these ‘micro micro’ businesses. Why are they important?
They help turn the tide in how a neighborhood perceives itself. A spirit of can-do optimism and hope permeates the community. Other people think, “I can start a business, or I can help resolve crime, I can improve education.” We try to facilitate the “I can” attitude.
How does MORTAR help food businesses?
We’ve had a significant number of food entrepreneurs come through the program. For Kristen [Bailey of Sweets & Meats], we helped her access a loan to buy her first food truck, and now they have a brick and mortar location in Mt. Washington. We connected Rebecca Denney of Paleolicious with the Mayerson Foundation, which got her a cafe space in the Scripps Center. We opened a food popup Mortar Mess Hall. It’s a kitchenette inside Rosedale in OTR, and throughout the week entrepreneurs use it to prepare and sell food.
What’s one thing Ohio Valley residents could do to help food entrepreneurs?
This city needs to take chances on people and recognize that there’s no archetype for a successful entrepreneur. We need to be open-minded about who we offer opportunities to and allow them to fail forward and find their sea legs and have patience for them to succeed.
You work with folks starting their own businesses; how does that, in turn, affect other people throughout the region?
Life is better when you’re exposed to new and different things. Discovery is one of the most important things in the human experience, like finding an opinion that challenges you to think differently or a food that activates part of your palate that you didn’t know existed. MORTAR provides ways for that cross-pollination to happen.
If you weren’t busy running MORTAR, what would you be doing?
I’d be working in a kitchen. I love food, and I have a personality built around achievement. Food gives you the opportunity for micro-achievements all day long.
Born: 1986 in Cleveland
Marital status: Single
Career: Grew up in Northern Virginia, attended college at Wittenberg University, then landed in Indianapolis. With college buddy William Thomas, a Cincinnati native, launched MORTAR to support underserved entrepreneurs and businesses in neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati. Named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for Social Entrepreneurs and Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s C-Change Class 11.
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.