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MORTAR Covington aims to replicate OTR entrepreneurship program's success in Northern Kentucky

'I see it as opportunities'
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Posted at 7:15 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 17:26:45-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Shannon Glover knows her way around a kitchen.

She was just 7 years old when she started helping at Dot’s Diner, her mother’s old restaurant in Covington. And Glover got her formal training at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas.

So when she decided to take her work as a personal chef to the next level, Glover didn’t need any help with the cooking part. What she really needed was training on the business side of things.

She got that training through MORTAR Covington.

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Shannon Glover

“Up until that point, I was a person who cooked. People ate my food. They bought it, and that’s what I did,” Glover said. “But that is the entrepreneurship, getting your LLC, doing legitimate business, going to the incubator kitchen, finding out that you need health department certificates, getting insurance – that is what MORTAR brought to the table for me.”

MORTAR Covington is a program of Renaissance Covington and offers a 15-week course for entrepreneurs modeled after the training developed by MORTAR Cincinnati.

The goal is to focus on historically underserved populations, including people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community, but the Covington program is not limited to people from a particular background, said Jill Schneider, the MORTAR Covington program manager.

“A big part of our mission is opportunity for all,” Schneider said. “We would never want to exclude anyone. But when we talk about traditionally underserved or traditionally marginalized populations, we really strive to have an emphasis on people that might not traditionally have that opportunity.”

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Jill Schneider

Glover was one of five women who made up MORTAR Covington’s first cohort of entrepreneurs in 2020. They began their training in August and wrapped up in November with a competition where they pitched their businesses to a panel of judges. Glover was the Judge’s Choice winner. She received $2,500 plus 150 hours of marketing services valued at $15,000 to help grow Legendary Eatz, her business that specializes in soul food recipes using healthier ingredients.

The prizes are a big step in the right direction, but Glover said she knows her success won’t be immediate or guaranteed.

“As I go along, you build each block,” she said. “It’s not an instant thing because nothing is instant.”

Glover learned that, she said, from MORTAR Covington.

Uplifting potential entrepreneurs

Work began in 2019 to bring the MORTAR program to Northern Kentucky as an extension of Renaissance Covington’s efforts to make downtown Covington more vibrant, Schneider said.

“As they were kind of talking through how can we uplift existing and potential entrepreneurs, there was an acknowledgment that the diversity in the business owners was not necessarily reflective of how diverse and amazing the Covington community is,” she said.

The discussion naturally turned to MORTAR in Cincinnati, she said, because of the success the organization has had working with aspiring entrepreneurs from marginalized communities.

“Renaissance Covington thought that partnering with MORTAR Cincinnati would be an amazing fit to kind of help push this mission on, really across the river into Covington,” Schneider said.

Interest in MORTAR has reached far beyond the Tri-State.

The organization also has expanded into Kansas City, Milwaukee and Akron, said Tim Barr, outreach and expansion manager for MORTAR Cincinnati.

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Tim Barr

“A lot of the barriers that our entrepreneurs face and a lot of issues that they face are nationwide,” Barr said. “We’re just really looking to grow what we’re doing and the impact of what we’re doing.”

When MORTAR expands to other cities, he said, the goal is to make sure there are community organizations and individuals that can deliver the organization’s curriculum and connect aspiring entrepreneurs to the local people and resources that can help them succeed.

“We want to make sure that these cities that are expanding with MORTAR have the same success that MORTAR has had here in Cincinnati,” Barr said.

The coronavirus pandemic made everyone’s work more difficult in 2020, he added, but the MORTAR Cincinnati team and its partners in other cities figured out safe ways to keep the program going.

‘I see it as opportunities’

In Covington, classes were held in person using social distancing. The pitch competition was recorded so members of the public could watch it live or watch it later and vote for their favorite entrepreneur. Michel’e Tevis, the owner of Berries and More, was the People’s Choice Winner and received $1,500.

MORTAR Covington hopes to have between 10 and 12 entrepreneurs in its next group, Schneider said, and is taking applications through the end of January.

Eventually, Schneider said she hopes that entrepreneurs who have completed the MORTAR Covington program will open businesses in some of the city’s empty storefronts if their plans call for brick-and-mortar locations.

Barr said he’s eager to see that happen.

“I’ve been on Pike Street, and seeing the spaces there that are available just really makes me excited,” he said. “I see it as opportunities.”

Glover said she hopes to open a brick-and-mortar location for Legendary Eatz someday.

For now, she’s working to create a website where customers can order meals online from daily menus that include her special sauces.

She’s also a junior at Northern Kentucky University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work. Glover said she wants to become a licensed counselor as she works to build her food business.

Her goal is to own a business one day that provides jobs for people who need a helping hand, she said.

“I want to be able to come back and employ people in my community that need a hand up,” she said. “You know, working every day. Come over here, and I can show you what we do in the kitchen. I can pay you, we can help you, and then you can keep going because that's a community.”

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Shannon Glover photographed at the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington.

MORTAR Covington is taking applications through Jan. 31, 2021, for its next cohort. More information is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been reporting on women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 20 years. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.