Lindner alum co-founds popular restaurant less than a year after graduation

Joe Niehaus followed his entrepreneurial spirit to open Hunny Bee’s

Joe Niehaus has been cultivating his entrepreneurial tendencies since he was a child. He constantly directed questions to his small-business-owning father. He sold lemonade at the local Independence Day parade, as well as candy and T-shirts to his middle school and high school classmates.

As an adult, Niehaus, BA ’21, turned down a career in financial services in favor of co-founding a restaurant, Hunny Bee’s, in Dayton, Ohio, a little over seven months after graduating from the University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

“I love the business of connecting with people,” said Niehaus, who is also Hunny Bee’s general manager. “(In) college I realized I was interested in consumer products and retail experiences, and so I always had the idea of opening a restaurant one day.”

A man in a blue shirt holds food.

Joe Niehaus, BA ’21, gave up a post-graduation job at Wells Fargo to co-found Hunny Bee's.

At Lindner, Niehaus, an economics major and Northern Kentucky native, appeared to be charting a course separate from overseeing a business that sells chicken fingers, fries and shakes. Take his internship and co-op experience:

  • MAYWIC Select Investments 
  • Wells Fargo
  • The TJX Companies 
  • AMEND Consulting

A former member of UC’s Economics Society, Niehaus landed his first internship (AMEND) from attending one of the undergraduate group’s meetings. He credited Lindner’s various career-building resources with creating opportunities for him.

“The way that Lindner sets that up and basically gives us the opportunity to make of it what we want to is awesome,” Niehaus said. “The people at AMEND helped me figure out what I did and did not want to do.”

Debashis Pal, David Sinton Professor of Economics, first met Niehaus when the latter became a Kautz-Uible Fellow, a scholarship reserved for the “best and the brightest economics students,” per Pal.

“Immediately I was deeply impressed by his intelligence and drive for success,” Pal said. “As I started interacting with him, I continued to be impressed by his unwavering belief in American entrepreneurial spirit and his innovative ideas.” 

Niehaus credited Woody Uible, a member of Lindner’s Business Advisory Council and a longtime supporter of economics at Lindner — notably through the Kautz-Uible Economics Institute — for being a “great mentor.”

Uible, BA ’75, said Niehaus’ immediate success as a businessman and an entrepreneur is due to a wide range of interests that allow him to “think outside of the box” and characterized Niehaus as “infectiously enthusiastic.” 

“He is good with people, which should translate into being a good manager,” said Uible, principal at Bartlett Wealth Management. “He also has a lot of energy and a positive attitude. Those are all important attributes to be a successful entrepreneur.”

(But) the more I thought about it, there’s not a better time to [start a business] than right out of school because you have nothing to lose. It was always something that I thought I wanted to pursue, and it kind of came about.

Joe Niehaus

Only a few months before graduating, Niehaus had a job lined up in Charlotte, North Carolina with Wells Fargo. As he was sorting out his living situation in Charlotte and studying for the Security Industry Essentials Exam, Niehaus realized the industry he was on the verge of entering was not his “cup of tea.”

“With Wells Fargo, it was a great opportunity to move away and learn real, tangible skills,” Niehaus said. “(But) the more I thought about it, there’s not a better time to [start a business] than right out of school because you have nothing to lose. It was always something that I thought I wanted to pursue, and it kind of came about.”

So how did Hunny Bee’s get off the ground so quickly? Rewind back to Niehaus’ first year at Lindner. Niehaus was a frequent customer of the now-closed FUSIAN in Clifton and reached out to one of the sushi restaurant chain’s co-founders.

“I was interested in how he got into the business and his background. We met at the Clifton FUSIAN my freshman year,” Niehaus said. “I walked over from Daniels Hall, met him, and we continued that relationship.” 

A man in a grey shirt smiles.

Joe Niehaus doubles as Hunny Bee's general manager. After opening on Dec. 2, overwhelming demand caused the restaurant to run out of chicken on its second day.

After passing on Wells Fargo, Niehaus — who worked at Chipotle in high school and in college for five years — went to the FUSIAN team with a concept for a chicken fingers-oriented restaurant.

“There was a perfect location in Dayton right off [the University of Dayton] campus, and it’s right down the block from FUSIAN,” Niehaus said. “We’re like, ‘Why not start here on a college campus?’” 

If Niehaus had any reservations about the demand for Hunny Bee’s, they were quickly quelled. He opened Hunny Bee’s on Dec. 2. On Dec. 3, the restaurant sold out of chicken.

“We were blown away by how many people came,” Niehaus said. “It was madness.” 

Hunny Bee’s just opened its drive-thru — Niehaus expects drive-thru to become a majority of Hunny Bee’s business — and has battled high chicken prices and labor shortages. But he said stability has recently set in.

“It’s a treat, so it’s easy for everyone to come once a week. It’s something to look forward to,” Niehaus said. “The brand is a little old school; it kind of brings nostalgia. The music we have is a Ray Charles vibe. It’s oldies, stuff your parents or grandparents would listen to, but on Friday nights when it’s packed, it’s so fun seeing people [listening to] good music.” 

Pal said Niehaus possesses the necessary traits to be a “very successful entrepreneur and businessman.”

“He has a keen understanding of the business world,” Pal said. “I expect him to be a very successful and caring entrepreneur, who will uplift the lives of others through his entrepreneurial spirit.”

Featured image: Hunny Bee’s chicken fingers, fries and various sauces. All photos courtesy of Joe Niehaus.

Opportunities available in economics

The Department of Economics and the Kautz-Uible Economics Institute invite students to apply for various scholarships and fellowships each academic year — just like the Kautz-Uible fellowship that Joe Niehaus benefited from as a student. Students can view details about the scholarships available and, if interested, must apply by Feb. 28, 2022.