Sugar n' Spice: A Wispy-Thin Diamond Anniversary

Iconic Paddock Hills diner Sugar n’ Spice celebrates 75 years of serving all walks of life

click to enlarge Sugar n’ Spice: Come for the wispy-thin pancakes and fluffy omelettes; stay for the rubber ducks. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Sugar n’ Spice: Come for the wispy-thin pancakes and fluffy omelettes; stay for the rubber ducks.

In 1941, the Cincinnati Reds played baseball at Crosley Field, the streetcar was a popular form of transportation and mobsters were running rampant across the river in Kentucky. It was also the year that Mort Keller opened a breakfast restaurant called Sugar n’ Spice in Paddock Hills. Seventy-five years later, Sugar n’ Spice remains one of the city’s most popular places for people of all ages and socio-economic groups to enjoy breakfast and lunch.

We recently asked Steve Frankel, Sugar n’ Spice’s present owner, via email to discuss a bit of history, the secrets to the restaurant’s longevity and what it’s like to own a beloved local landmark.

CityBeat: Sugar n’ Spice’s founder Mort Keller went trough a fascinating career change. Please start by giving us a bit of history.    

Steve Frankel: In the beginning, back before opening Sugar n’ Spice, Mort Keller was a barber. As the story goes, in 1939, Mort was on a trip to California. He happened to stop at a restaurant for breakfast and was so impressed with the pancakes that he asked about the recipe.

Mort ended up purchasing the pancake batter recipe from the restaurant with the idea of opening his own breakfast restaurant in Cincinnati, which he did in 1941. He named the restaurant Sugar n’ Spice and featured his secret recipe “wispy thin” pancakes. Sugar n’ Spice was a hit and soon became the go-to breakfast, lunch and dinner spot in this Paddock Hills neighborhood.

In the early days, Mort also continued to be a barber; there are current Sugar n’ Spice regulars who recalled as a child going to Keller’s for a haircut, then having breakfast at the restaurant. 

CB: How did you come to own Sugar n’ Spice? 

SF: I was born on Bristol Lane around the corner, so I guess I’ve been coming here my whole life.

A friend owned it, and I had always been involved in his restaurants over the years. He moved on to other restaurants, but I was at a time in my life where I wanted to do something fun and give back to the community and invest in a local landmark. That was 2010, and I have owned and operated it ever since. 

CB: To what do you attribute the longevity of Sugar n’ Spice?

SF: It’s always possessed a unique charm. It’s fun and funky, but everyone feels comfortable here. Whether it’s the huge fluffy omelettes, the retro toys that kids and adults play with or the rubber ducks, everyone seems to enjoy themselves here at Sugar n’ Spice. 

CB: Yeah, those little rubber ducks. What’s up with those?

SF: I used to give away golden dollars to kids for birthdays on their first visit. They stopped producing them, but I didn’t want that piece to go away. I’ve always thought that it’s important that customers have memorable visits beyond the food. I wandered into Ace Toys on Reading, saw the ducks, thought they looked fun and started giving them away. 

CB: Sugar n’ Spice is the place for people of all races and economic levels to eat. Why do you think this is?

SF: It’s been here for so long at this point, everyone has a story here. We are in the center of the city. We don’t draw from one segment of the population or section of the city. We aren’t considered an “East Side” or “West Side” establishment. We are just a Cincinnati establishment. People remember their first visit with us, enjoy it and come back. 

CB: What’s the most popular item on the menu, and have you ever thought of changing it?

SF: The pancakes and the omelettes. We’ve changed it some since I took over. And every year we release a new menu — new pictures, some changes and some different items. We brought back some items from old menus we found in the basement. We improved some of the ingredients. They were obvious changes like moving from serving canned mushrooms to fresh, from frozen spinach to fresh. We’ve improved the final product by improving ingredients without losing the charm, the history and the idea of Sugar n’ Spice.

CB: The only thing that would make Sugar n’ Spice better is if you stayed open for dinner. Have you considered it? 

SF: We have stayed open for dinner before. One of the challenges of being established for 75 years is that people know that Sugar n’ Spice is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. almost every day of the year. But right now we are cooking on our grills outside Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the summer from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or whenever the smoked meat runs out. And starting Sept. 1, you’ll see our new Bear Trap BBQ food truck opened in our parking lot Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s a barbecue spot, but it will be with a special Sugar n’ Spice twist. 

SUGAR N’ SPICE is located at 4381 Reading Road, Paddock Hills. More info:

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