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Discovering Bronte Bistro

The restaurant is a hidden gem at Joseph-Beth Booksellers Cincinnati

By Laura A. Hobson

Hidden away in Rookwood Commons in Cincinnati is a small restaurant called Bronte Bistro tucked beside its parent company Joseph-Beth Booksellers. While Joseph-Beth may be a destination bookstore, Bronte Bistro is the little engine that could. Sales were up 6-8 percent in 2015 with an increase in profits over a three-year period.

“I do a lot of physical work here in a small restaurant,” says John Gaines, director of bistros at two of Joseph Beth’s three locations. Gaines always has an eye on the guests, food, wait staff and prompt service. If the restaurant becomes busy, Gaines steps in and delivers food to the patrons.

His management style is hands-on, but with a light touch, to 41 full and part-time staff, many of whom are young. “I like working with young folks,” he says. “They keep me young.”

With 31 tables including a bar area, Bronte Bistro offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. A separate kiosk in the bookstore offers coffee and pastry service, as well as to-go meals. The Bistro seats 500 people every day with a standard to deliver an order in less than 12 minutes. The restaurant serves approximately 175,000 guests per year with an average transaction of $9-$12. Lunch accounts for 50 percent of the business, 35 percent for dinner and 15 percent for breakfast.

A renovation in 2013 opened up the restaurant with a door onto the sidewalks of the Commons, giving it more exposure as well as interior décor changes. “People don’t know we are here,” says Gaines, and he’s working with senior management to expand the reach of the restaurant beyond Hyde Park and Norwood.

The restaurant features monthly recipes from cookbooks sold at a 25 percent discount to customers. Ingredients are fresh with a daily quiche and soup. Vegetarian chili is always popular as are the baked brie and salmon nicoise salad, all eclectic American fare. “If an item is not working, we get rid of it,” Gaines says.

Gaines says the quiet restaurant attracts a core of loyal customers, often women and book club members.

Gaines says, “Word of mouth is your best ally.”