The great, mostly friendly rivalries of Cincinnati are legendary—Eastside-Westside, Muskies-Bearcats, and of course, the one you can eat—Gold Star-Skyline. Talk to Roger David, CEO of Gold Star, about rivalries, and he’d rather tell you about love. Of chili.
“It’s a friendly rivalry if anything,” David says. “They’ve made us better. We’ve made them better.”
Perhaps the most Cincinnati-centric foodstuff this side of goetta, chili holds a special place in the heart (and stomachs) of the citizenry. Now Gold Star holds a special place at University Station next to campus—opening a flagship restaurant that offers an expansive menu to both locals and out-of-towners.
So what is the real difference between Gold Star and Skyline? “Ours is meatier and spicier, a little bit more like the original Cincinnati chili. You get more bite with ours.”
This isn’t your father’s Gold Star. The décor is retro-cool while the classic chili parlor vibe is still intact. Colorful graphics illustrate the history of Gold Star and the nuance of chili consumption. (Twirling your spaghetti is a definite no-no.) The menu offerings meld the present—three-ways, coneys and cheese fries—with the past—burgers and hand-dipped shakes. And some surprises—French fries smothered in a parmesan-garlic sauce.
Another misconception: Gold Star did not spin off from Skyline. “Everybody spun off of Empress. They were the original,” he says. “Then you had Dixie Chili, and then you had Skyline spin off of Empress.”
Gold Star’s origins were more celestial. David’s father and three brothers bought a restaurant in the mid-1960s in Mount Washington called Hamburger Heaven. The deal included a chili recipe. They tweaked it, changed the name to Gold Star, dropped the other stuff, and started expanding.
David originally worked for the company for about 10 years after college, then earned an MBA at Xavier, pursued a marketing career, and now at age 50, has returned to the family business. As far as returning to Gold Star and Gold Star landing at University Station, it was as if, well, the stars had aligned.
“When I started as the CEO, this location was already in the works,” he says. “I’m glad it all came together.”