Mike Smith has made his rounds around the food industry in Northeast Ohio, working his way up as a busboy and bouncer all the way to head chef before discovering his love for catering. The family man with a great love for Bay Village and passion for hospitality has been at the helm of Thyme Table since it opened in 2019 and became Cleveland’s best new restaurant last year. And business hasn’t slowed down: amid the pandemic, he launched Family Thyme Meals to help customers access food when grocery stores were overwhelmed. He offered take-home Cocktail 101 courses and virtual wine pairings with winemakers from around the globe and hosted bartender pop-ups with newly established Cloak & Dagger to shake up the community. “We just kind of had all these things that fell into place all at the right time, and it just gave us an opportunity to do some really fun stuff in a tiny little restaurant that has become way more than we ever thought it would,” says Smith. Here, he shares some of his favorite go-to spots for local collaboration and gushes about some of the people that make Bay Village a foodie destination.
Q: Where have you cooked around town?
A: I started in the industry when I was 15 years old. I worked at a Bob Evans. It was actually the one that’s still there up on the corner of Crocker Road and Detroit Road. I was just kind of a busboy. Then one day the grill cook didn’t show up and I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give it a shot.’ I did and I ended up loving it. I got a job at Gamekeeper’s [Lodge] in Rocky River after college, absolutely loved it, and got back into the industry. When that restaurant closed, I had an opportunity to become the head chef of a little restaurant in Ohio City called Opa! On 25th. That was a great opportunity for me to try my own stuff out, create my own menu, create my own specials and all that kind of stuff. I went and worked for Hyde Park [Steakhouse] for a little bit before starting catering. I started my own catering company about four years ago, and then the opportunity for [my own] restaurant arose.
Q: What is one of your favorite restaurants in Cleveland?
A: When we’re going on a date night, it’s almost always to Salt. We love Jess Parkison and Jill Vedaa. Jess worked with my wife and I at Gamekeeper’s in Rocky River 15 years ago or however long ago it was. There was just a group of us that have stayed in the industry that worked there and they’re just fantastic people. We love supporting them, but they are really one of the best restaurants in Cleveland. They change their whole entire menu so often that it's hard to really pick just one thing.
Q: What other businesses do you work with around town?
A: It’s a big thing for us that we try as much as possible to use small companies. Whenever we can do little things with local companies, we try. Our coffee is from Duck Rabbit Coffee. There’s a little farm in Avon Lake called Coleman Gardens that we get our produce from during the summer. Every beer we have on tap is an Ohio beer. We try really hard to make sure that we’re focusing on promoting other peoples’ businesses whenever we possibly can.
Q: Where do you like to get takeout from?
A: Chatty’s Pizzeria [in Bay Village] has only been open for a month, but we’ve gotten it three times already. We get a lot of pizza to make sure the kids are happy. A lot of food truck food, too. Smokin’ Rock and Roll; that’s probably the one I’ve gotten the most from. Food truck food was a lot of fun last year because people weren’t able to do anything, so random neighborhoods would invite a food truck to come. It was a lot of fun to randomly drive into a neighborhood and I’d be like ‘Holy crap, there’s a food truck. Let’s stop and get some.’
Q: When you’re in need of a good cocktail, who’s shaking things up?
A: Speak of the Devil in Lorain is fantastic. They just have a real passion for making incredible cocktails and you can really see it in their entire staff. The last time we were there, we just literally said, ‘Pick something for us.’ I said I wanted something with bourbon and [my wife] wanted something a little different but not sweet. I don't even remember what the heck it was, but they just made something for us. Having the experience, they know what pairs well together. That's just a lot of fun.
Q: Who is your top tier Cleveland chef right now?
A: If anybody in Cleveland were to win a Michelin star, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Matthew Spinner. My wife and I dined at a three Michelin star restaurant in Chicago, and I have to tell you that Spinner’s food is better. The way that he puts flavors together and the passion that he has for the food that he serves is incredible. I mean, the amount of work he put into studying Japanese cuisine before opening Ushabu (now Bar Oni) was mind-blowing.