When Oakley breakfast spot Sleepy Bee Café opened at the end of 2013, it proved to be so buzzed about that husband-and-wife owners Dr. John Hutton and Sandra Gross decided to open a second location in Blue Ash this year. They say there were two main reasons for the Blue Ash location, which opened its doors Sept. 1 — demand for a café like theirs in the East Side suburbs, along with an interest in expanding their kitchen space to support Sleepy Bee’s catering operation.
Gross says they had been considering suburban locations for the new restaurant, and one day while she was driving on Cooper Road in Blue Ash on her way to Pipkin’s Market, she stumbled across a building located in the Towne Square shopping area. “We loved that location because you can walk to it, you can bike to it,” Gross says. “To me, it feels much more a part of the neighborhood. There’s a lot of density around it.”
Gross doesn’t manage the day-to-day operations — she leaves that to a staff that includes chef Frances Kroner — but she does design the interiors of her restaurants. “We like to inhabit buildings and give them a new purpose — buildings that have been there for a while and maybe need to have some new life breathed into them,” she says.
Gross is also the owner of Oakley’s Brazee Street Studios, and she and Brazee’s creative director, Leah Busch, concentrate on making glass art, like the floral glass chandeliers hanging in both Sleepy Bee locations. Gross and the pediatrician Hutton also own Oakley’s Blue Manatee children’s bookstore. “I have Brazee Street Studios, that’s my baby,” she says. “His baby is Blue Manatee, and together we are very involved in Sleepy Bee.”
At 5,000 square feet, the Blue Ash Sleepy Bee is almost twice the size of Oakley’s (but not quite as busy yet), and unlike the flagship location, they serve boozy brunch drinks: mimosas, bloody marys and champagne cocktails. Akin to practically everything on their menu, the alcoholic drinks have some sort of sustainability component, including the wines. Blue Ash also has specialties exclusive to the location such as a Blue Ash Smash sandwich — scrambled eggs, potatoes, candied bacon, nectar sauce, pesto and pickled onions on sourdough bread — and Sandy’s Style — blueberry pancakes with extra blueberries — because Gross loves them.
Both locations serve a gluten-free pancake called Bee Cake, which tastes better than a regular pancake and is made with almond milk. “People freak out over the gluten-free pancake,” Gross says. “It’s a very healthy pancake and it’s very low sugar. The flours are all pollinated by bees: quinoa, almond and buckwheat flour.”
One out every third bite of food at the café is pollinated by bees, owners estimate, so sustainability is an important issue for the staff. Chef Kroner focuses on local ingredients like honey and Ohio maple syrup, and she’s met with all of the farmers the restaurant works with (a glass map of the farms from which ingredients are sourced hangs in the dining room).
In September, Time Out New York named Sleepy Bee one of the 17 best breakfast restaurants in America. They landed at lucky number 13, sandwiched between Outerlands in San Francisco and Coastal Kitchen in Seattle. “That was amazing and wonderful and lovely and very unexpected,” Gross says. Eventually, they’re going to add even more locations, but for now Cincinnatians will have to be content with two Sleepy Bee Cafés to learn about the plight of bees and to eat good food.