Steve Schimoler's dad was, among other things, an inventor. He recalls watching as his father tinkered in the basement, trying to build what he saw in his mind. So he knows something about the nature of ideas, the way they'll show up unannounced, at strange times, as if suddenly bored of hanging out in the subconscious and eager to talk. That's how the chef and entrepreneur's laters project, Cleveland Food Rocks, was born.
It was the wee hours of the morning, after another night of jamming with Cream of the Crop, the house band at Schimoler's Crop Bistro. He's the drummer. At the time it was just a vague notion, an extension of the connections — long obvious to him — between his two passions, food and music. But he immediately sensed that something real could be built on the phrase "Cleveland food rocks." He asked a colleague to register the words as a domain name, right then and there.
"Look at a menu, and look at a set list," says Schimoler. "And for me, as a drummer, it's all about rhythm. When the band really has its groove, that's when you can jam and improvise. And it's the same in the kitchen."
The idea remained fuzzy until the announcement that this year's Rock Hall induction ceremonies would take place in Cleveland for the first time since 1997. That offered a hook, and a deadline. Schimoler started working the phones, and was encouraged by the positive responses. Almost everyone got it and wanted in.
The concept was simple: For a week or so leading up to the inductions, restaurants around town — many of which rarely or never host live music — would offer performances and special music-themed menu items. From there, each restaurant owner could figure out the details. Some have invited known local performers, like Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat and the Anne E. DeChant Trio. Others, like the Metropolitan Café and Sergio's Sarava, are following Crop Bistro's example and debuting a band that includes staff members. Adcom/Optiem jumped at the chance to design the website (clevelandfoodrocks.com).
It's simple, yeah, but it's something. And business owners who usually have nothing to do with each other are talking and thinking of each other as allies rather than competitors. This is what excites Schimoler, even more than the music.
"With all the bullshit going on in the world," he says, "here's a great example of a group of motivated entrepreneurs who are doing something. This is exactly what cities need to be doing — not talking about solutions but stepping up and getting results. And shame on us if we don't try to do a better job of improving the restaurant experience."