To celebrate Women's History Month, we're sharing the inspiring journeys of eight female founders across Greater Cincinnati. A special thanks to Johnson Investment Counsel for their support, and stay tuned for more stories in this Female Founders series throughout the month!
Some of the best ideas come from a night out with friends. That's how the concept for Crown Restaurant Group got started for Haley Nutter-Sitek.
Today, Crown Restaurant Group (CRG) has five local restaurants under its umbrella: Crown Republic Gastropub, Losanti, Crown Cantina, Rosie's Italian, as well as the brand new Five on Vine. Nutter-Sitek is the co-owner and Director of Hospitality, in partnership with her co-owner husband, Chef Anthony Sitek.
CRG began with its flagship, Crown Republic Gastropub, in June of 2018. "Crown Republic was our original 'dream' if you will. Something myself, my husband, and a few of our friends from culinary school dreamed up after a night out — a place where anyone could be themselves, feel comfortable, and eat great food," she shares. "Over time, as we continued to build our individual resumes, our friends' involvement fizzled out and my husband and I were the last ones standing."
Maybe because it's a business started by friends, run by a husband-and-wife duo who met in culinary school, with family recipes sprinkled throughout their menus, but you feel a warm welcome and an instant level of comfort when you walk into any of their restaurants. "Everything is built around bringing people together over delicious and beautiful food," she says. "All of our restaurants are completely from scratch. We make all our own pastas, breads, dressings, sauces, mixers behind the bar — really, everything."
Crown Republic Gastropub is a blend of cuisines. "Anthony is an Italian boy, who loves to cook Mediterranean, and you can see those flavors throughout Crown Republic's menu," she says. Losanti is a boutique, Italian Steakhouse. "We specialize in steaks by the ounce, where we butcher daily and have a variety of sizes for dinner service," she adds. Rosie's Italian, although named after "HaleyRose" Nutter-Sitek, is built off Anthony's family recipes. "From the 'Sunday Gravy' he grew up making to the Chicken Parmesan that was the family staple," she shares. "He was taught how to cook by his grandmother who sadly passed shortly after we moved to Cincinnati. You will see her name, Grace, placed in different locations throughout the space. Rosie's pays homage to her." Crown Cantina is CRG's only location that doesn't serve pasta. "Originally, the idea came from doing to-go service during the Covid lockdown and on Cinco de Mayo 2020, we did a Crown Cantina pop up and sold out before 3 pm," she recalls. "We had fun with it and knew we wanted to bring a different style cuisine to our group, and a more authentic approach to Mexican to Cincinnati." Lastly, CRG has Five on Vine, an upscale American Tavern. "We reimagine those classic dishes everyone knows and loves — just with a Crown Restaurant Group twist!"
But it's not just their elevated but approachable food that makes them unique. "Internally, we call it 'Crown Culture.' I think it was said best in our first-ever review by Cincinnati Magazine back in 2019: 'A mysterious quality that I can only describe as 'good energy'... Everyone at Crown Republic seems unusually switched on, focused, and interested in the success of the restaurant... This quality, brought by people who are excited and invested in their work rather than being barely engaged, makes a subtle but real contribution to a meal.'"
The close-knit Crown Culture feels like family, and that's intentional. "My husband isn't only my life partner, but also my work partner. Our Director of Operations is my oldest sister. Learning from her and her leadership style has been my biggest blessing and a huge contribution to our success as a company. One of my cousins is the General Manager of Crown Cantina. My brother in law just joined our company this year as our Director of Finance," she explains. "We have had employees pretty much become family. So, whether its by blood or not, we are all family here."
And family is what it's all about for Nutter-Sitek. She was born and raised in Cincinnati. Graduated from Loveland High School and ended up at Johnson & Wales University on a tennis scholarship. "But their culinary program was what they were known for," she says "There wasn't a huge presence of females in culinary school, most of the females concentrated in the baking and pastry programs. So I was the only female in our friend group with a concentration in culinary."
After graduating and starting a family, they moved to Florida with their three year old son, Aiden, after Sitek was offered a growth opportunity with a new restaurant concept. "My career took a back-seat so I could focus on our family," Nutter-Sitek says. "Miami is a different sort of Restaurant scene and childcare hours aren't very conducive to our industry."
With her family still in Cincinnati, they often returned for holidays and visits. "We got to watch Cincinnati start to evolve. It was amazing to witness with each trip back the changes that were taking place and really watching downtown come back to life! We knew we wanted to be a part of it. We began planning Crown Republic and making moves to put our dream to action," she says. "We were solidified in our decision once we found out we were pregnant with our second son, Pierson. Cincinnati is an amazing place to raise a family, and we couldn't wait to get our work life and personal life on more steady ground."
That's why Five on Vine is a full circle moment for Nutter-Sitek. "I am normally hesitant to agree to a new space — who wouldn't be when you're already at four in four years? But this one was a no brainer for me. When we first wanted to come to Cincinnati, we had hearts set on Vine Street. However, the desire was to bring a bigger food scene to the residential/business district, and that's where we went," she shares. "So, to be asked almost five years later to take over an amazing location on Vine Street, the place that inspired us to come home in the first place, we were sold."
So, here's to family, those who make you feel like family, and friends who help you cook up the most delicious ideas. To learn more about CRG, visit crgcincy.com
Thanks again to Johnson Investment Counsel for their support of this Female Founders series. Click here to learn more about their "Women, Wealth & Johnson" initiative that's encouraging and empowering women to thrive.