It sneaked up on our community consciousness like a cat in the night, but for those in the know, it was a long time coming. It was old news by the time the national television basketball pundits, covering a runaway win by the Cavaliers last year, started talking about the local food scene and where they were going to eat after the game.
Certainly, upscale dining establishments like the Marble Room are building the city’s culinary reputation.
“We have been here in the city for only about a year-and-a-half, and it’s so vibrant it’s shocking,” says Malisse Sinito, owner of Marble Room. “I have been nothing but surprised at the people who come out for dinner almost every night. And it’s not just the Clevelanders who come in, but the people who pass through Cleveland; visitors like football players, basketball players, baseball players, bands that are in town and people who come in for events like the triathlon or wrestling tournament.”
So how did Cleveland become such a foodie town? And how did it happen so quickly? It wasn’t just celebrity chef Michael Symon, although there are many who will argue that he paved the way.
“We have a lot of talented chefs and cooks who are making a name for themselves in the city,” says David Ina, owner of Zaytoon Labanese Kitchen, a fast-casual Lebanese restaurant located near the Halle Building on Huron Road. “Our culinary tastes in this city have become more sophisticated. The awareness of ethnic food has taken off.”
Ina, whose restaurant serves Lebanese dishes like shawarma, organic hummus and soups and salads, grew up in the restaurant business in Cleveland. His folks own Al’s Deli on East 9th and Superior. After studying culinary arts at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ina went on to The Ohio State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.
“But you don’t need to leave Cleveland to get a great culinary arts education,” he stresses. “There are plenty of great programs at the community colleges around town.”
There also are plenty of places to find employment in not just Cleveland, but throughout the state.
The number of restaurants in Ohio, now over 22,000, employ more than 583,900 employees, according to Homa Moheimani, a spokesperson for the Ohio Restaurant Association, who is citing figures from both the National Restaurant Association and Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of 2017, the number of eating and drinking establishments in the Cleveland market numbered 4,331, with more than 89,000 payroll employees.
“Like other big cities in the state of Ohio, the restaurant scene [in Cleveland] is absolutely growing, diverse and successful,” Moheimani adds. “We’re seeing a surge of culinary flavors and tastes that are not only local but internationally influenced as well. “