Inside Social OTR, the Ambitious Eatery That Serves The Community in More Ways Than One

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A nonprofit venture owned by the Corporation for Findlay Market, Social OTR not only nails its ambitious New American menu but also aims to fill a multitude of societal and business needs in our community.

The restaurant is a two-in-one, with front and back rooms featuring different décor and service styles but the same menu. They’ve been doing dinner since opening in February and added weekend brunch in mid-May.

At the Elm Street entrance, you’ll find a couple of sidewalk patio tables and a sunny front room with a mirrored bar. Social OTR emphasizes connection: most seating is at communal tables that encourage diners to sit with strangers and perhaps make new friends. (They do have several smaller tables on side walls if that suits you better.) The back room, with an entrance from the alley, has a darker, cozier feel where the bartenders double as servers for the communal and individual tables.

The menu includes about seven “Snacks,” 10-11 “Small Plates” and just two “Large Plates” — a steak dish and chicken roulade. They don't have a lot to choose from at dessert, but cocktails and other libations shine brightly. Whether you prefer tequila, rye, gin or any other spirit, the house cocktail list has you covered.

Because of the growth in dining options all over the Tri-State, restaurants have a hard time finding and keeping reliable staff. And plenty of potential employees can’t afford to train in the industry and/or have other obstacles that diminish their work options. Social OTR “teaches people looking for employment the necessary skills to get restaurant jobs,” according to the Findlay Market website.

In partnership with City Link, a faith-based nonprofit organization that works on multiple fronts to combat poverty, Social OTR participates in a workforce development program that starts with training students for four weeks at the City Link facility. The next step is for students to learn on the job in a casual/upscale environment, and that’s where Social OTR comes in. Students work in the basement prep area and then in the kitchen for 24-30 hours per week. After 12 weeks, graduates get placed in kitchens around the area.

As a nonprofit, revenue-generating model that’s self-sustaining, it’s the very definition of a social enterprise. Combine that with the emphasis on communal tables and shared plates, and the name “Social” is just right.

Social OTR, 1819 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, socialotr.com.

| Photos by Hailey Bollinger