photograhy by Sarah Parisi Dowlin
The storefront of 1819 Elm Street glows in the twilight, a beacon in this block just north of Findlay Market that is being reborn one location at a time. Social OTR is leading the way, breathing new life into a 19th century building while feeding 21st century customers.
A spirit of conviviality reigns in the two compact dining areas anchored by communal tables and a bar. Traverse the hall in between, and through an interior window you can see the true measure of this place. Under executive chef Jennifer Kempin, the kitchen team is not only making your dinner, but working their way to self-sufficiency and to careers in hospitality.
For Social OTR is fine dining with a purpose, providing opportunity to individuals who have encountered barriers to steady employment. CityLink Center in the West End provides life skills like resiliency and financial education; the Corporation for Findlay Market provides the culinary training. The program was designed with input from local chefs, who are challenged by the region’s low supply of skilled line cooks.
The menu of sharable small plates is a textbook of fundamental kitchen techniques—from fermentation and sauce-making to quick frying and slow braising—and references global flavors from Argentinian chimichurri to Moroccan harissa. In 16 weeks, the kitchen interns hone their craft so they can transition at graduation to work at one of many restaurant or institutional partners.
“If you have a great work ethic and a continued willingness to learn, you can drive all the way to the top” of the culinary profession, says Anthony Berin, Social’s general manager. As for the customers, prices accommodate just about any budget, starting with $3 beers and $1 oysters at happy hour—allowing just about everyone to do good by dining well.
1819 Elm Street
Cincinnati, Oh 45202
Mary is a former restaurant critic and senior contributing editor for Cincinnati Magazine. She was the founding editor for the Cincinnati edition of the Zagat Survey, and her byline also appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, among other publications. She is delighted to return to food writing after a long hiatus with a piece for Edible Ohio Valley.