Marija Lemon, CBRE Cleveland
Bar Louie, vacant for two years, will soon be home to Agave & Rye.
Bar Louie (1352 W. 6th St.) quietly closed its downtown location two years ago (along with more than 60 other locations nationwide). And given the state of the hospitality industry during the past two years, it’s not surprising that a different operator had not staked a claim on the spacious downtown property.
But now one has: Agave & Rye
, a regional chain with roots in Covington, Ky.
Since opening its first location, the gourmet taco and spirits concept has exploded to 10 locations throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Alabama. Founder and CEO Yavonne Sarber chalks that growth up to the company culture.
“We hire and develop the right team members, that’s the secret,” Sarber says. “You can have the best concept, the best pizza, the best food, the best environment, but if you don’t have the best people, you’re not going to succeed. I’m a firm believer that it’s not that there aren’t enough people that want to work, it’s that there’s not enough people that may want to work for you.”
Of course, this particular piece of Cleveland is hallowed ground. Long before it was home to Bar Louie and Metro Bar & Kitchen and Metropolitan Café, it was the site of Piccolo Mondo, where a young chef named Michael Symon once worked. At roughly 6,000 square feet, the restaurant is large by many standards, which is what kept it unoccupied over these past few years.
“There was significant interest in the space, but it had to have a certain operator who could work with the size, vaulted ceilings and take advantage of the significant wrap-around patio opportunity,” says CBRE Cleveland broker Stephen Taylor.
While that outsized footprint might have caused Sarber to pause back in 2018, she didn’t much blink in 2022. Agave & Rye spaces have steadily grown from 2,500 square feet to 4,000 to 5,000 to 7,200.
“All locations are typically on a wait, regardless how many seats we have,” she says.
While each location is slightly different, they all are tied together in spirit by their interior design, art, lighting and layout.
Agave & Rye boasts a strong cocktail program starring fresh-squeezed juices and premium spirits. But it’s the “Epic Tacos” that consistently draw raves.
“We put French technique into a taco,” says Sarber. “The taco is the vessel, right. We do duck confit in a taco, butter-poached lobster and truffle in a taco, It’s unconventional and it’s delicious. And on top of that, it’s all fresh. We do not have freezers.”
When Agave & Rye opens this summer it will seat 220 indoors, 100 outside on the wrap-around patio and a select few more in the Alibi Room, a lower-lever speakeasy serving high-end sprits.
Sarber says that when the opportunity to open a location in Cleveland popped up, she pounced.
“We are longtime Cleveland Browns fans,” she says. “We picketed against Art Modell. When we saw the opportunity to be near the stadium, we thought, yes! We’d love to be part of that energy.”
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