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Varied menu for Ndukwe

Chinedum Ndukwe, the Bengals safety with an appetite for a crowded menu, will be the first to tell you he needs to improve after just eight NFL starts.

But he may already get a sandwich named after him.

After all, he is one of the owners of The Rookwood Bar and Restaurant that opens with high hopes on Mount Adams Wednesday night.

And they want to name more than that after Ndukwe in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, where his $5,000 gift that the NFL matched has literally given an inner-city youth football league the feet to race to six playoff berths.


"But the main thing on my mind is beating the Texans this week," Ndukwe says. "There's plenty of time for everything else during the offseason. Right now it's all football."

Ndukwe is using his off day next week to drive back home to present the check to the CYAA Saints in what is merely a symbolic ceremony.

"Chinedum made sure we had the money in July, in plenty of time for the season," says Randy Printup, the Saints president and founder.

"You figure with something like that, where somebody makes a promise, there is going to be a lot of red tape and you're not going to get the money until halfway through the season. But he made sure we were ready to go."

Ndukwe researched the Saints just like he researched his first business venture as a pro in wasting no time wielding that dual Note Dame degree of marketing and psychology.

By the time the Rookwood Bar and Restaurant reopens the building's historic doors 6 p.m. Wednesday for dinner and its Grand Opening, Ndukwe has already gone through the playbook.

"He wants to learn the business and he's asked a million questions since we started," says Jon Mouch, the Hollywood chef who left the stars for Celestial Street. "He's been in all the team meetings and he's been very open and spoken his mind to people in all parts of the operation, in the kitchen and servers. I think you can see how his passion and motivation comes from being on a football team."

Ndukwe is one of four local owners who were attracted to both the history of the building and the nightlife of Mount Adams. Home to what used to be one of the greatest ceramic ovens in the world, the Rookwood Pottery Co., building still stands at 1077 Celestial St., as a monument to Maria Longworth Nichols and her gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition.

The Parliament Room, a section for receptions and banquets is already getting a flock of calls.

"I like the fact that it's a place with a lot of ties to Cincinnati," Ndukwe says. "There's tradition and yet I think we've got a pretty fresh approach to what we're trying to do."

As fresh as the soups and french fries and salad dressings Mouch is going to throw against the blitz.

"It's pretty standard fare for a bar and grill, but we're going to make everything in the kitchen," says Mouch, whose previous handiwork sizzled the Mexican menu of NADA in downtown Cincinnati. "Everything is going to be fresh. The fish. The salsa. No cheese just melted over chips. There isn't going to be anything frozen."

A pretty good run fit for Ndukwe, who calls himself a Midwest steak-and-potatoes guy. He attended the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial program last offseason, but he was in the restaurant business by age seven flipping donuts at the Donut Palace owned by his parents.

"This is how crazy my family is," says Ndukwe of his father, an engineer, and his mother, a nurse. "While my dad was working for Saturn and my mother was starting a home health company, they were also running Donut Palace. So I know how to work."

It was a family friend that introduced Ndukwe to Printup, a Columbus teacher who has been trying to run the Saints for six years in one of the city's poorest sections.

"More than 90 percent of our players are from families below the poverty line," Printup says. "Most of them are on welfare or some kind of aid."

Dr. Lebronz Davis, a friend of the Ndukwes who lives in the suburbs, wanted to give his son perspective and signed him up for the program while he coaches and gives free medical consultations to some of the neediest.

Davis told Ndukwe about the league and Ndukwe executed due diligence with a visit.

"Most of the kids didn't have pads. They were wearing street clothes and a lot of them didn't have matching shoes. They were wearing different shoes," says Ndukwe almost unbelievingly. "I was shocked they had as many kids as they did. I mean, the coaches were doing a great job just getting them out."

Printup says the gift has not only changed the football program, but there has been enough money to get 100 girls ages 4-14 involved in cheerleading. And in the past, the banquet and trophies had to get scratched but now all 300 players get a trophy.

Also on the list courtesy of Ndukwe: Game wear for 185 players, 125 helmets, 65 jerseys and 100 game pants. But maybe the most important pickup was a van that can fit 20 kids to get them to games and practices.

"A lot of the kids walk, so we're doing a lot of carpooling. We all do; coaches, parents," Printup says. "So it really is a blessing."

If there's not a trophy named after Ndukwe in Columbus yet, there could be a sandwich soon in Cincinnati. And not one of his favorite half Angus beef, half fillet burgers that Mouch concocts.

Mouch, instead, will honor his attention to detail.

"The first thing Chinedum said when he saw the menu," Mouch says, "was, 'You have to have a chicken sandwich for people.' So that's probably the one if we decide to do it."

In honor of his very busy second NFL season, it better come with everything on it.

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