Prosperity Social Club in Tremont is as Cleveland as the pierogies and weekly fish fry it serves. But while it’s become one of the few remaining go-to places to find that old Cleveland experience, the restaurant is celebrating just its 15th anniversary this week — seemingly young for what’s become a staple of old-school eating and drinking in Northeast Ohio.
“I joke that 15 years in the bar and restaurant industry is like 75 years in real life, and recent events have only made that feel more true,” says owner Bonnie Flinner, who first experienced the industry at an early age working at her aunt and uncle’s Bit of Budapest restaurant in Parma. “It takes a lot of sacrifice and it takes a toll on personal relationships and family, but it is also very rewarding.”
Part of that vintage charm comes from the restaurant’s iconic home in a 1938-built barroom formerly known as Dempsey’s Oasis. When Flinner re-opened the space in 2005, she sought to retain the blue-collar spirit and ethnic heritage through throwback decor, a communal social club atmosphere and food such as Polish grub and a Friday night fish fry. “It was a staple of the neighborhood, and it really reflected the working class and the ethnic diversity of the Tremont neighborhood,” says Flinner. “When I saw it, I knew immediately that it had a soul. When you step into the barroom, you can just feel the history and the activity that has happened in the building.”
This Wednesday and Saturday, Prosperity Social Club is offering an edible nod to the past in the Ethnic Platter ($15), which includes two potato pierogi, cabbage and noodles with kielbaski, one Hungarian stuffed cabbage roll and a potato pancake served with apple-cranberry chutney and/or sour cream.
We asked Flinner to share a few life lessons she’s learned over the past 15 years of running Tremont’s favorite social club.
I knew I wanted to be the next caretaker of this space because it just felt so comfortable and so right. I felt that I knew what the space needed to relate back to the community again.
I researched what was happening in the 1940s when the bar was first created, and the word prosperity kept coming up in political speeches and media. I thought, “That’s a really good word. I’m going to put this word with social club because that’s what I want this place to be.”
In the ‘40s and ‘50s, you went to your Polish club for weddings for a funeral for a bridal shower, if you got fired, if you got a job — it was the place you went for all those memories in your life. That’s what I wanted to create.
It was a challenge coming into the Tremont neighborhood. People here are very vested in what happens in their neighborhood. The block clubs are super strong, and people are very proactive about what development goes on. I feel very lucky that the residents embraced me, and gave me an opportunity to win their trust and show them that I wanted to bring a positive energy into the neighborhood and respect the history of the neighborhood. But I had to earn that with the community here.
Customers tell me all the time how special [Prosperity] is to them. They tell me about the holidays they celebrated, or the last time their family member came here and how they had a great time and now that family member has passed away and they can come back and remember that person. People tell me [what this place means to them] all the time, and that’s why the sacrifice can be so fulfilling.
People take time out of their busy day or away from whatever’s bothering them and their troubles and they come here to this place to be happy and make memories.
Our authenticity is in our comfort food that we make from scratch in our kitchen. It reflects who we are as Clevelanders.
I always wanted good, quality food coming out of the kitchen that reflected my heritage and reflected the ethnicity of Cleveland. I wanted to have the food fit the space.
It’s important to try new things and stay up with what’s happening and try to weave that into your menu or your cocktail list. So we’ve adapted by adding vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options while still staying true to who we are.
Obviously, we couldn’t do it without the customers. But a very strong part of success is the behind the scenes and that goes from the dishwasher to the snow shoveler to the cook to the manager to the bartender. And finding great employees is a challenge, and I have a really amazing staff that has been super loyal and loves what they do and believes in this space and Prosperity and our product. No business could last as long as 15 years without amazing people working behind the scenes and in the front of the house.
I can humbly say I’ve achieved the vibe I always wanted.