Perhaps more than any other business, the coffee shop is the purview of the freelance journalist, and as such, I have frequented many in our fair city. I believe I have enough data compiled to say that Mom ‘n ‘em Coffee in Camp Washington, created by brothers Tony and Austin Ferrari, is not only a true rarity, but something truly special.
Mom ‘n ‘em is a passion project four years in the making for the Ferrari brothers. Food is a family business for the pair; they also operate Provender Coffee and Hillside Supper Club in San Francisco, where they lived until this past February. Locally, they operate Ferrari Barber & Coffee Co., a barbershop formerly owned by their great-uncle on Garfield Place downtown, and the forthcoming Fausto Café in the Contemporary Arts Center. Fausto is named after their father, who immigrated from Italy in the early 1970s; Mom ‘n ‘em is a tribute to mom Theresa, the American girl next door.
“We always wanted to do a project here, no matter what it entailed,” says Austin, the younger of the pair. “We always wanted to be part of Cincinnati, ’cause it’s our roots. It’s where we’re from, people know us here. So we just sat down (and said), ‘Let’s just do a coffee shop. Let’s do something that we love.’”
According to coffee shop website, the name for Mom ‘n ‘em comes from the radio station 700 WLW. “One of the broadcasters would ask the other, ‘Hey, how is your mom ‘n ‘em doing?’ Eventually the saying started flowing through (our) family and so it became a reality at the coffee shop,” reads the explanation.
Originally, the concept for the shop entailed operating out of an Airstream trailer, but budgetary and zoning constraints led the pair to move the project indoors to the Camp Washington single-family home into which Tony was planning to move.
Built in 1893, the site of Mom ‘n ‘em is just over Hopple Street, a bit farther down that side of Colerain Avenue and into Camp Washington than the cluster of burgeoning arts-related operations taking up residence in the area. The question of gentrification always surfaces when new, white-owned outfits are being built in historically marginalized neighborhoods, but Mom ‘n ‘em seems to fit seamlessly into Camp Washington, and the Ferrari brothers are emphatically neighborhood guys.
“We care about Camp Washington as a community,” Tony says. “The area is amazing, the neighbors are incredible and we’re the kind of people that before we even think about something, we knock door-to-door like, ‘Hey, do you want us here, do you need us here, do you have a love for coffee, do you want this reassurance of a third place?’ ”
The pair are adamant about Mom ‘n ‘em being a “third place” that’s not home and not work, reserved instead for talking shop, drinking wine or coffee and hanging loose for a handful of hours — something Tony says was lost when Camp Washington was dramatically reconfigured to accommodate I-75 in the 1960s.
Their hard-working, children-of-an-immigrant attitude, friendly conversation and playful, entrepreneurial spirit go a long way to achieving that relaxing sense of a third place, too. It helps that their partnership — and brotherly bond — is so symbiotic.
“We both just attack it. We take care of business. We have very defined roles: I’m the back, he’s the front,” Tony says. “I’m a little bit more on the business side, he’s a little more on the marketing and social media. You do your thing you’re good at, I’ll do mine, we’ll talk about it, but we kind of know. We know enough about the business, the aesthetic, how we want to make people feel, to where we just go for it.”
That aesthetic is refreshing in an era of stark restaurant rigidity. Mom ‘n ‘em eschews that austerity and replaces it instead with the brothers’ special blend of sparkling Italian vibrancy and straightforwardness. The layout of the house contributes to that warmth, too, with its open kitchen area and table-and-comfy-chair-filled living room and dining room spaces. There’s a diverse offering of wines selected by certified sommelier Austin, and the idea, he says, is to be meaningful but playful (much like the brothers themselves.)
I tried a splash of the 2003 Philippe Foreau “Clos Naudin” Vouvray Demi Sec, which was buttery smooth and very nice, and the Franklin’s coconut cold brew coffee, which was not overly-sweet; I got it twice. (There’s a full offering of other coffee options, too.) The homemade rosemary and lemon-infused soda was refreshing, and in one of my braver food moments, I ordered the anchovy toastie.
Two thick slices of local Allez country loaf were generously swiped with homemade salsa verde, atop which rested silver strips of previously-tinned anchovies, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and doused with a sprinkling of aleppo (a zingy Italian chili.) I was as shocked as any anchovy-avoider that I enjoyed every bite. The zip of the chili offset the saltiness of the fish, as did the tangy salsa verde.
There are eight other tinned fish varieties to try, as well as cheeses, cured meats, pastries from North South Baking in Covington, the “Dirty Nati” Egg Samich and more. Oh, and, to whom it may concern: They have a full liquor license with cocktails like a classic negroni and Manhattan, and a smart selection of beer in their cooler. Friday night wine flights are $5, and family-style Bistro Night dinners are on the horizon as well.
If you want to take a little of the Ferrari brothers’ spirit home with you — and by this point, you should — you can grab a bag of their special namesake-blend espresso, created in partnership with Deeper Roots Coffee. But it is best experienced in person. The parade of local construction workers and contractors and business people from Northside and downtown who popped by during my two separate visits only reinforced the neighborhood feel the brothers are working so hard to achieve — successfully, I believe.
“We like creating that vibe of creating this cool little bond where you feel welcome throughout the day,” Austin says.
Mom ‘n ‘em, 3128 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, momnemcoffee.com