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Behind These Papered Windows, a New Restaurant is Being Created

It is a chaotic time for the Shirley family.

Baron Shirley spends a lot of time taking care of his 2-year old daughter Samantha and working part-time at a trendy restaurant in Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood while his wife, Mary Beth, works full-time as a nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and completes her master's degree.

She is also eight months pregnant.

They are also opening a restaurant on Madison Avenue in Downtown Covington.

"I'm Mr. Mom," Baron Shirley said, holding little Samantha in his arms while showing off the future home of Inspirado. "I squeeze in everything else. Everyone's gotten to meet my daughter."

Inspirado is the name given to the Shirleys' new place that will open at 715 Madison Avenue in the summer. It means "inspired" in Spanish. "I chose Spanish because I feel that on a global scale, no one does food and beverage better than the Spanish," Shirley said. 

The couple were inspired to open Inspirado in Covington by the positive developments taking place in the urban center, such as new residential units, an expanded community college campus, a new music venue, and a boutique hotel. "There is a lot of good coming to Covington," Shirley said. With the brewery, the Mutual Building, the hotel, Gateway. This neighborhood is going to grow up a lot in the next five to ten years."

Shirley knows what gentrified and successful historic neighborhoods look like. He saw Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati blossom in person while working at hot spots Senate and Abigail Street. He currently clocks in part-time at Maribelle's in Oakley. "It would have been nice if I had the money to open up in Over-the-Rhine," he said, "but I didn't." That sent him searching for what he called the next neighborhood to turn around. Living in Wallace Woods, the Shirleys are familiar with the ups and downs of Covington's urban center. As more projects are under way in Downtown Covington, a bit of momentum is being developed. "I felt like it was the right time to be in the neighborhood."

And since he can't be in Over-the-Rhine, he plans to bring a little Over-the-Rhine to Covington. "We want to take the trendy business model that has worked so well in OTR and try it outside of OTR," he said. "Hospitality will be a focus for us. We want to be the shining star in this neighborhood, something others aspire to be."

The space where Inspirado will serve its menu of dishes (priced from $7 to $25) from all over the world at lunch and dinner (and drinks in the rear bar) is where Whack Burger recently closed. The entire interior is being redone to match the Shirleys' vision. 

Shirley's professional career after his education at the Midwest Culinary Institute includes stints as an executive chef for Kroger and a manager of the Hooters in Newport. He has spent the past several months looking for a spot on Madison Avenue and nearly landed a deal on the 500 block where Geez'l Pete's most recently operated. That deal fell through (and a sushi restaurant will go there instead), but everything came together at 715 Madison. 

Now, Inspirado will be surrounded by growth in Downtown Covington where Braxton Brewery just opened and where Gateway Community & Technical College has multiple buildings being developed, The Hotel Covington is in development, and the Mutual Building will add residents and commercial tenants in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Madison Events Center and the Madison Theater continue to brings hundreds of people to the block each week.

"This block has a lot going on already," Shirley said.

With Inspirado opening this summer, it will soon have even more.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News