Jumping into restaurant ownership is already a leap of faith. The pandemic hasn’t been kind to the industry, with many of our favorites closing up shop — or considering it. Yet across Cleveland, some spots are finding the courage to expand and open new locations. Chefs and owners from five spots tell us what it feels like to take on more during a downturn.
Cilantro Taqueria’s takeout model served them well when the pandemic hit in March, and the success of their Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights locations prompted Eddie Zalar, owner of the Inn on Coventry, to partner with the original owners to open a new location in Lakewood this month.
It’s a nice location, a lot of space for a patio. The location just fell into my lap. Almost every day after work, my coworker and I would go to Cilantro and have a taco and after going there several times, I said, “I’d love to own one of these.” We have a really good business model, especially now. It’s fast-casual and the takeout is really easy. I’m really excited for it to come to fruition. There’s been a ton of people walking by, all the neighbors in the area, saying how they’re looking forward to us opening.
Citizen Pie Roman Cafe
Downtown’s East Fourth Street has reawakened with this new Roman pizza joint. Owner and chef Vytauras Sasnauskas studied how to make the crispy-yet-airy concoction for years before opening this new spot, his third pizza restaurant, in September.
The idea of the Roman pizza was in my mind five years ago when I went to Rome, and was researching the Neapolitan pizza in 2015. If you break even right now you kind of hit the jackpot. Especially with a downtown location really struggling because downtown is dead. All the venues are closed. We’re just one of the thousands in Cleveland, out of millions in the country right now trying to survive and work very hard and move forward. Every day is kind of scary. What’s going to happen next? But we can’t stop. We’re going to move forward.
Brandon Chrostowski is upgrading Shaker Square’s fine dining scene by taking over the former Fire Food and Drink location with a three-, five- and seven-course menu that doubles down on the original Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute’s mission.
I told my staff we’re going to fight for our employment and safety, we’re going to fight for feeding our community, and we’re going to fight to spread our mission. I think with that clarity, there was commitment from them to put your head down and do this. And we didn’t waver. There is a need to expand who we serve. Nowadays, there’s not much to experience, right? Broadway’s closed, no traveling. So there’s an opportunity for a true focused dining experience. I have chefs coming in, well-known around the globe and country, they’ll go cook for a night or a weekend, bringing more excitement to the table.
Lola Sema and her husband Luca are giving downtown something to look forward to. The owners of Luca Italian Cuisine and Luca West plan to open their third restaurant early next year in the former XO Prime Steaks location. Lola shares what’s at stake.
I would put all my passion, heart and soul on this place to make it a great restaurant and not just as an eatery, but a great, fun place to be out. But you never know how it goes with restaurants anyway, you’re always taking a risk. In a way, there’s never a better time to create 40, 50 or hopefully 100 jobs. There’s never going to be a better time. Having a vision and bringing it together and creating an edge — it’s exciting. We’re so thrilled to have the opportunity to do that. We’ll keep doing it as long as we can.
The Sauce Boiling Seafood Express
Owner Kyler Smith’s first location for this grab-and-go seafood spot on the East Side was notorious for long lines out the door. Now, the new downtown location, which opened Sept. 11, is perfectly poised for game day crowds.
I just took the leap and just jumped out there and opened it up. Surprisingly, we’re still doing good down here. The second location is a more updated unit, it has more seating, it’s a little bit more spacious. A person doesn’t have to go back to their car. They can enjoy their food downtown, can watch the game downtown now and things like that. It’s a complete difference. At the downtown location, we’re adding chicken and fries with our famous Cajun seasoning and fried corn bites with our sweet Cajun seasoning. We’re working on two more locations within the city of Cleveland right now as well.