Build it, and they will come. While that old adage works in theory, it takes time to create an identity around a new destination such as the Flats East Bank. And when a string of restaurants close in the area, reality takes hold. Ken Stewart’s East Bank, Crop Sticks, Crop Rocks and the Willeyville have all shuttered since the neighborhood’s revitalization in 2013, raising questions about the future of the Flats. But not to worry, says Zack Bruell, who owns Alley Cat Oyster Bar on the East Bank. Other popular neighborhoods such as Tremont and East Fourth Street took years to develop as well. “All of that took some time to take traction,” he says. “There were successes and failures.” So we spoke to three restaurateurs about what’s working and what could be improved in the area.
View Finder: The views of the Cuyahoga River and skyline are the biggest draws for customers. “It’s a movie set that you can’t duplicate,” Bruell says. “It’s almost like you’re dining in a theater and all of a sudden a barge slowly creeps by. It is somewhat mesmerizing.”
New Blood: Dante Boccuzzi plans to open a pizzeria in the former Crop Sticks. Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. is taking the Crop Rock’s On Air space. And Bruell is partnering with brewmaster Luke Purcell for a brewery in the former Watermark Restaurant. “They’re going to add some great other options to fill the void,” says Bold Food & Drink’s Demetrios Atheneos.
Variety Show: The mix of high-end and casual restaurants complements other entertainment such as the Big Bang dueling piano bar or Punch Bowl Social. “If you’re looking for a date night or to hang out with a few friends, the Flats is ideal,” says Lago’s Fabio Salerno.
Retail Me Not: Adding shops or boutiques would help draw more off-hours foot traffic. “It would definitely help the daytime scene down here and in the offseason,” says Atheneos.
Event Bright: Although the Flats East Bank has hosted a summer concert series and an arts festival, the area needs to be strategic when trying to create energy around events, Salerno says. “If you do too much of the same thing, it kind of looks like the same stuff every week,” he says.
Market Share: While all three restaurateurs have seen steady business, they feel most of Northeast Ohio doesn’t know about this gem down by the river. So a stronger marketing campaign — whether by word of mouth or through social media — needs to happen. “People get stuck in their own routine and stay in their own space,” says Bruell. “You may not have gone downtown for 25 years. This is something I’m not sure everybody is completely aware of.”