Cincinnati’s Grand Experiment
The Grand City Experiment looks to make Cincinnati more welcoming
By Mike Boyer

A group of young professionals hope simple random acts of kindness this month will blossom, making Cincinnati one of the nation’s most welcoming cities.

That’s the idea behind The Grand City Experiment and four other community service projects undertaken by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s C-Change leadership development class of more than 50 young professionals.

Sparked by articles in the Enquirer describing the experiences of a woman who came here with all the tools to be involved in the community but never broke through, each of the projects is aimed at making connections and making the city a more welcoming place.

They are: Pep City, an interactive rally Oct. 2 about what makes the city unique; Queen City Commit, asking for commitments to change the perception that it’s hard to connect here; Destination Innovate, fostering a more inviting atmosphere for college students and startup enterprises; and expanding the chamber’s HYPE Ambassadors’ program.

The Grand City Experiment, led by co-chairs Aftab Pureval, Andrew Salzbrun and Janae Chaney, has the potential to touch everyone in the city and has already sparked interest from other places such as Oklahoma City.

Cincy Magazine sat down with Pureval, 31, a Procter & Gamble attorney.

Why the focus on welcoming?

It’s that cliché question: Where’d you go to high school? It’s a killer for somebody not from here, because if you don’t have the right answer the conversation ends because there’s not that shared experience.

What is the Grand City Experiment?

It’s 31 days of random acts of kindness and small gestures to make Cincinnati more welcoming. We’re asking people to go to our website, thegrandcityexperiment.com, and put in their email address. Each day we’ll send out a new challenge to make Cincinnati more welcoming. It can be as simple as talking to the person behind you waiting for coffee or maybe buying their coffee.

What kind of response do you expect?

Our goal is to get 30,000 participating, but that’s not on Oct. 1. We think once people see others participating, they’ll want to join in. We’ll also have some public pop-up events, and some tied to specific dates such as Yom Kippur. If only young professionals in the urban core participate, I’ll consider it a failure. We want this to be the most inclusive event offered in Cincinnati. To accomplish that, we’re reaching out to community councils, churches, interest groups and anyone who will meet with us.

Why did you want to undertake this project?

I was overcome by how simple the idea was and how inspiring it was to give people an excuse to be kind to one another. There’s so much good going on in Cincinnati, we wanted to create a project that highlighted that and challenged the city to be greater.

What happens after October?

We’re surveying participants before and after to see who participated and who was affected. We’ll create a report about what we learned to share with other cities and groups. The goal is to have a residual effect so those connections we help facilitate live on past the month. We’re hoping that’s the legacy. We want the Grand City Experiment to live on in some form.

 

Donut Stop Believin’
Holtman’s Donut Shop breaks the mold with OTR location
By David Lyman

On paper, it sounded like a pipe dream.

It was September 2013 and Holtman’s Donut Shop, an old-school family-owned doughnut business, was preparing to open a shop on Over-the-Rhine’s Vine Street strip, arguably Greater Cincinnati’s hottest stretch of retail and restaurant real estate.

How could a business with a 1950s-style business model and an artery-clogging product line hope to survive in the midst of Cincinnati’s trendiest dining/entertainment district?

But when Holtman’s opened for business Sept. 14, 2013, lines snaked out the door and down the sidewalk. It defied logic. You’d think that one of the world’s great chefs had abandoned Paris in favor of frying doughnuts in Cincinnati. Now, a year later, the lines are as long as ever.

“It was all about the location,” says Katie Willing, co-owner of the shop with her fiancé Danny Plazarin, a third-generation doughnut maker.

Yes, location was definitely important. But it was buoyed by a generous helping of 21st century savvy and social media marketing. As of this writing, Holtman’s has nearly 6,600 followers on Facebook, another 1,500 on Twitter, a 4 1/2-star Yelp rating, a 97 percent rating on Urbanspoon and . . . well, you get the idea.

Holtman’s may feature products that aren’t quite heart-healthy, but they have been masterful in the way they’ve managed to connect with customers who aren’t afraid of dabbling on the culinary wild side every so often.

Earlier generations of Holtmans—Danny’s grandfather, Charles Holtman opened the first shop in Newtown in 1960—followed the demographic flow of their day, opting to open in the suburbs rather than the center of the city.

But Willing and Plazarin are of a different generation. Both in their mid-20s, they weren’t burdened by the emotional baggage many of their elders attach to the city. When they went out to dinner, they often turned to OTR staples like Senate and A Taste of Belgium. They were intrigued by the architecture and the urban feel of Over-the-Rhine. In their eyes, this was a neighborhood filled with opportunities rather than things to be feared.

So when they decided to launch their own doughnut shop, OTR was the first choice.

They had considered other locations: Blue Ash, Montgomery and Eastgate. But they felt OTR was a better fit.

“It’s not just about liking a neighborhood,” says Willing. “There are plenty of places I like. But I wouldn’t necessarily open a business there. I love Rookwood, for instance. But I don’t think we would fit.”

Willing may not have a degree in marketing, but she and Plazarin instinctively understood what made the burgeoning OTR neighborhood tick.

OTR is filled with independent businesses. And it attracts a crowd that is broadly diverse in age, race, education, income and many other measures. Most important, it is an area with an abundance of foot traffic and consumers willing to take a chance on the unknown, whether it be a restaurant, boutique, theater or a Maple Bacon doughnut, one of Holtman’s best-sellers.

To the young entrepreneurs, it seemed that intriguing new businesses were opening in the neighborhood nearly every week. They wanted a piece of it for themselves.

Several other family members were cool on the idea.

“My mom was a little nervous about the location,” says Plazarin. “And Katie’s family? At first, her grandmother wouldn’t even get out of the car.”

But success has a way of soothing skeptics’ doubts.

“I was so happy when they opened down here,” says Marie Gibney, who claims to have visited Holtman’s once a week since that triumphal opening day. “Except when I was on vacation,” she addd. “So I made up for it the next week.”