Why he’s interesting: There’s a lot of love and passion for Cleveland in this chef and restaurateur. With an East Side upbringing and firm Italian roots that stem back to his grandmother’s emigration from Sicily, Salerno has inspired a healthy eating movement by pushing plates at TownHall with non-genetically modified organisms and raw foods. In early 2019, he’s opening a second TownHall location in Columbus. Now, Salerno is expanding into retail by offering organic, toxin-free coffee.
Family Approval: Four-year-old Salerno was too short to see over the stove, so he’d pull a chair up next to his mom and play sous chef. But as he got older and began cooking for his family, they weren’t very impressed. Salerno admits the stern cooking bias may come from generations of hard-earned Italian cooking. “My parents started giving me respect as a chef about 15 years ago. I don’t think they even thought I could boil water before.”
Relationship Goals: Salerno met his wife, Nicole, within 100 feet of where Lago now sits in the Flats East Bank. He looks to her for strength through his toughest endeavors, such as the closing of his Grato wine bar in Shaker Square. “I couldn’t do what I do without Nicole. She’s a strong woman, and to deal with me, she has to be. I’ve dropped keys to businesses in her lap before and said, ‘Hey, we own a restaurant now!’ ”
Health Nut: The organic, non-GMO and vegan dishes at TownHall have helped inspire a citywide clean eating movement, but Salerno says it’s not an attempt to follow a trend. “I’m driven to figure out our food supply and where it comes from, and these specialty diet recipes are the first step of me serving what I’d want my family to eat.”
Coach Dad: Salerno pushes his kids to be active, even volunteering as the football coach for his sons’ teams — which means he gets to be the team chef too. “Every team dinner, every banquet and for every sport we do it.”
Heading South: TownHall’s success has Salerno itching to expand. Columbus has been on the top of his list from the beginning due to its close proximity and strong restaurant community. “Columbus is alive and active and is a hotbed for independent restaurants.”Interesting Fact: 18 years: How long Salerno has been cooking in Cleveland.