Despite some local pushback, The Olive Tree, a unique cafe and event venue in Bellefontaine, is hosting its first drag brunch on Saturday, Feb. 26.
Tyler Berry opened The Olive Tree in June 2020 with intentions for it to be a cafe and event venue. When the pandemic hit, Berry’s plans shifted and the space originally opened as a market filled with an assortment of retail items resulting from Berry’s connection to the local farmer’s market.
Eventually, Berry – a 2017 graduate of Benjamin Logan High School – added the cafe element to the space and partnered with Bellefontaine’s local Recovery Zone, which offers an assisted employment program for people recovering from drug addiction, to run The Olive Tree’s cafe.
“That really pivoted our business,” Berry said. “My biggest saying I tell people how The Olive Tree works is: every person who walks in the door pivots my business plan and I let it grow and evolve as opportunity arrives.”
Following the Recovery Zone, Berry continued connecting with other nonprofits in the area including the local Suicide Prevention Coalition and a local affirming church that helps sponsor LGBTQ+ religious support events.
Berry said making these connections with local nonprofits has opened up a lot of doors for him. “I am a business owner in a small town, but I have a voice,” he said. “In a way, I kind of have the power to make change. And I told myself, ‘Well, no one else is doing it, so I’m gonna do it.’”
Berry is also in talks with local LGBTQ+ theater troupes about using his space for performances and continuing to expand The Olive Tree in both the LGBTQ+ community and event scene.
“In total, my venue is about 3000 square feet and in the actual seating area I can comfortably seat 96 people at tables [with a] max occupancy [of] about 120,” Berry said. “So it’s not huge, but I mean to do immersive theater programs, to do private parties, it’s perfect. Especially for drag shows.”
Berry said The Olive Tree’s drag brunch is going to be the first in Bellefontaine’s history and will feature Ohio drag queens including Eden Apple, Sabrina Caprice Heartt, Mari Jane and Maya Bizness, with hosting by Blonde Vanity. The show sold 94 out of the 96 total tickets in four days with hardly any money spent on advertising.
“I was not expecting that for this small town,” Berry said. “So we added a second show that’s happening right after the first and that one is going to sell out, too.”
Bellefontaine is the seat of west central Ohio’s Logan County, an extraordinarily Republican part of the state. According to voter data from the 2020 presidential election, of the 23,706 ballots counted in the county 17,964 were for Trump, while only 5,055 were for Biden.
Berry, who grew up in the area, remembers years ago when he was in high school that there weren’t any programs or spaces designated for the LGBTQ+ community. “Gay people just didn’t exist,” he said.
With that in mind, Berry anticipated receiving some flak about The Olive Tree’s drag brunch. That pushback came in the form of social media posts that attacked the event, accused a local church of sponsoring the brunch (no church is sponsoring the brunch), and the sharing the rumors that protesters were purchasing tickets to cause problems from inside the event.
Berry filed a police report in order to keep his guests and venue safe. He also worked with a supportive police officer who gave him advice on security measures to take for the event and assured him everything is going to be fine. From where The Olive Tree is located, Berry said he can practically see the police station, so he has little worries about what might happen during the show.
Despite the pushback regarding the drag brunch, Berry said there have been a lot of positive things that have come out of The Olive Tree existing and hosting events like drag brunch.
“I’ve had three cases now where family have actually called in and they’ve said things like, ‘We think our son’s gay. We think our daughter’s gay,’ and they basically just thanked me because they’re using drag brunch as an educational purpose,” Berry said. “And that put me into tears. I was so excited. So, that’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s for. Even just the local LGBTQ+ community, I’ve had about another three or four people reach out and say, ‘I’ve never ventured to Columbus to go to (drag brunch). I’ve never experienced one,’ and they’re all excited to come to their first one.”
Despite the county’s political makeup, data gathered from the local Suicide Prevention Coalition has found that youth in the area are starting to become more accepting of themselves and others — a change since Berry was growing up in the area.
Data also shows that Logan County has a high suicide rate, Berry said. And while most reports don’t break down the data to include sexual orientation, it’s widely known that members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a greater risk for suicide attempt and/or ideation. Berry said Logan County doesn’t have ample resources to help those suffering, or the LGBTQ+ community at large, which has put him into the position of being a resource.
While this may be Belletontaine’s first drag brunch, it certainly won’t be the last LGBTQ+ event. Berry said he’s working on planning festivities for Pride Month in June, including a Pride Block Party.
“What’s crazy on my end is I was just going to play with the idea. I was going to throw drag shows out, I was going to throw a rainbow flag here and there,” Berry said. “And my plan changed very much to the point that it’s like almost every day we’re doing something positive for the LGBTQ+ community.” 🔥