Picnic and Pantry (Feature)

Over-the-Rhine’s creative class continues to add more and more bars, restaurants and shops for its denizens and tourists, including the recent addition (or relocation) of Picnic and Pantry, a convenience store filled with quality sundries and carryout it

click to enlarge The food counter at Picnic and Pantry’s new OTR location
The food counter at Picnic and Pantry’s new OTR location

Over-the-Rhine’s creative class continues to add more and more bars, restaurants and shops for its denizens and tourists, including the recent addition (or relocation) of Picnic and Pantry, a convenience store filled with quality sundries and carryout items.

Nonprofit Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH), whose mission is to build and sustain a diverse neighborhood, tapped Lisa Kagen, owner of Northside’s vegan/veggie-friendly businesses Picnic and Pantry and also Melt, to move her Picnic and Pantry operation from Northside to OTR. The Northside shop closed in February, and when the OTR location of Picnic and Pantry finally opened in April, it enabled Kagen to create a sandwich shop that offered affordable menu items and accepted EBT — electronic versions of food assistance benefits — which has slowly been effective in offering healthy options to low-income residents.

The new space in a historic building across from Salazar was designed by Kagen, OTRCH, John Blake, Miami University department of architecture and interior design professor, his students and preservation/renovation-firm Acanthus Group. In the ilk of neighboring Park + Vine, Picnic and Pantry sells a suite of health-focused foods, but unlike the vegan-focused P+V, it sells meats and serves a food-bar menu past lunchtime.

Much like the former Northside outlet, OTR’s adjunct offers a small daily menu consisting of hot sandwiches ($5-$6) and in-house prepared sides ($3). The store is structured so people can come in and grab a few things to go (for lunch or a picnic) and stock up on basic goods. And Kagen enjoys cooking, especially for a lunchtime crowd, which is one aspect the OTR location offers.

“I like Northside just fine — it’s my home — but I also like serving a downtown lunch crowd,” she says. “The energy and people are great. Besides, Melt already nabs a specific lunch crowd on its own. The former Northside commissary is a great large space, but I have more fun working in smaller spaces. My mind moves fast, so I need to reach items and tools quickly to be my best.”

“I feel like a drummer at a deluxe drum set — everything is within reach,” she adds.

The 700-square-foot OTR Picnic and Pantry definitely falls into the category of “small space,” yet it’s manageable, with a food counter and a few seats at the window to gaze out toward nearby Washington Park while you eat a vegan sloppy Joe (lentils, beans, barbecue sauce and toppings).

Each of Kagen’s businesses serves its purpose: Melt is an all-encompassing restaurant with a Sunday brunch that also sells some of Picnic’s prepared foods, and now OTR’s Picnic seals the healthy “fast food” gap and is the hub of Kagen’s bustling catering business. Kagen’s approach to the OTR menu is to offer fan favorites, but also to continually try out new foodstuffs for customers.

“I like change and working with what is in the store,” she says. “No one wants the Melt menu to change, so we leave it alone as much as possible. But at Picnic and Pantry, we get to rotate specials and repeat tried and true recipes that stay familiar enough in their weekly appearances.”

The aforementioned sloppy Joe and a brisket sandwich seem to be customary, but so is their lemongrass pulled-chicken, soups and hot and cold prepared salads, including a fennel and dill egg salad, a gluten-free pasta salad and sesame noodles. For $8, you can get a heaping pile of three sides, and before you commit to anything, the food counter will give you a spoonful to sample.

While you briefly wait for the food to be ready, browse their shelves and cold cases and you’ll find everything you need: Organic Valley milks, eggs, pre-wrapped sandwiches, homemade vegan peanut butter brownies, frozen meals, sodas (no booze, though), cheeses, pre-sliced Italian meats, locally made Madisono’s gelato and local coffee roasters Cluxton Alley and La Terza beans (Picnic also brews to-go coffee and tea on the premises).

In the future, Kagen wants to add more sandwiches, packaged foods and possibly some cooking workshops and picnic wares.

And it’s apparently what OTR wants. According to Kagen, the neighborhood’s response has been overwhelmingly positive. “I love the energy and the attitude of this neighborhood,” she says. “The heart of our city is finally healing, and I think it’s spreading out to all the other neighborhoods, too.” One vegan sloppy Joe at a time.


PICNIC AND PANTRY is open daily at 1400 Republic St., Over-the-Rhine. More info: picnicandpantry.com.


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