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Friday, November 20, 2020

Michael Symon Closes Flagship Eatery Lola Bistro After 24 Years, Citing Covid Crisis as Untenable

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2020 at 9:14 AM

  • Food Network
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Michael Symon’s flagship restaurant Lola Bistro is closed and will not reopen. The James Beard Award-winning chef announced the news to Scene in an emotional call. While not entirely unexpected, the timing of the closure was propelled by the discovery that two employees recently tested positive for Covid, requiring a temporary shutdown at the least.

“Unless something miraculous happens, they’re closed permanently,” Symon says. “We started looking at the numbers and decided that we just can’t do it.”

Michael and Liz Symon opened Lola in Tremont in 1997, long before Symon was a nationally recognized chef and television personality. There, in the fiery open kitchen, the animated chef whipped up electric dishes like slash-and-burn grouper, herb-crusted walleye with lobster pierogi and long bone beef chop with gorgonzola risotto. Just a year later he would land on the cover of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs issue, followed by a long string of accolades, not the least of which were high-profile TV gigs like Iron Chef and co-host of “The Chew.”

Symon famously relocated Lola from Tremont to E. Fourth Street in 2006, doing for that neighborhood what he and Liz did for Tremont, which is to say transform it into the epicenter of Cleveland dining and entertainment. Prior to the pandemic, Symon and his partners have long discussed the next phase for the 23-year-old restaurant, perhaps reinventing it for the next decade. But the world had different plans, apparently.

“Lola would have been open 24 years in March,” Symon states. “We’ve had 24 busy, successful years, and we thought that whenever we decided to end it, whenever that was, it would be on our own terms. It wouldn’t have been like this.”

All restaurants – at least the ones that have managed to remain open – are struggling. But keeping open a fine-dining eatery like Lola requires considerable revenue just to break even, revenue that had been drying up for months, says Symon.

“Before this latest surge the restaurant was at about 30-percent of normal sales,” he says. “This last surge cut that level of business in half. We would do more on a busy Saturday than we do in an entire week.”

Symon added that had he and his partners continued to operate Lola, he might not have been able to pay all of its bills, a nonstarter for him.

“We’re at a point now where we can pay all of our purveyors, to pay everyone, but there’s a breaking point where I’m not comfortable staying open and to not be able to keep paying our bills,” he says.

Also closing for good are the B Spot restaurants in Crocker Park and Strongsville. Mabel’s BBQ and B Spot Eton will remain open.

“We came to the conclusion that we could either keep two open and have a chance or keep five open and they all close,” he says.

The most challenging aspect of all of this, says Symon and his colleagues in the restaurant world, is the unknown.

“If someone could tell me that this will all be over, whatever, pick a month, then you plan to make it to there,” he says. “But no one knows. I’m fortunate to be friends with some of the smartest people in the business and nobody has an answer because you don’t know what the future holds.”

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Leavened Has the Crowds Beating a Path to Top-Notch Bread and Pastry in Tremont

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2020 at 9:12 AM

  • Photo by Doug Trattner
While most of us are snug as bugs in bed, Ian Herrington is as busy as a bee in the hot-box kitchen of his Tremont bakery, Leavened. Every day, he arrives to work at 3 in the morning to begin tackling the Sisyphean tasks that await him. There’s the weighing, shaping and proofing of bread doughs. There’s the production of sweet doughs and pastries. And then there’s the actual baking. So. Much. Baking.

“I bake the sticky buns, I bake the pain de mie, I bake the sourdoughs,” Herrington ticks off. “The croissants go in after that and then the baguettes, the scones, the hand pies, the cookies, cookie bars and bread pudding. If I’m in my groove, the bake is usually done by 7:30. And then I immediately switch to prep for tomorrow.”

There’s a reason that new bake shops don’t appear with same frequency as pizza parlors, chop houses or even barbecue joints. Not only are the hours grueling, the work hot, dusty and demanding, and the profit margins battered by the fluctuating price of ingredients, but artisan bakeries also require an extraordinary level of skill to pull off with any degree of success.

“All the specialty equipment is really expensive, to hire good people is expensive, to get good ingredients is expensive,” Herrington explains. “It takes a lot of planning and good financial backing to make it happen. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t do it. To make really good bread day in and day out, you really have to devote your life to it.”

Herrington has devoted the last ten years of his life to the art and practice of baking. After eight years, he recently left his job as head baker of On the Rise in Cleveland Heights to prepare for the opening his own European-style artisan bakery, which he did in late September. The sleek, glassy and modern storefront anchors the northwest corner of The Tappan, a new residential building on Auburn Ave.

Like all great bakeries, Leavened imbues the neighborhood with heaven-sent scents like fresh-baked loaves, still-warm sticky buns and fresh-brewed coffee. In addition to core products like rustic sourdoughs in the form of baguettes, pain d'epi, fougasse and whole wheat loaves, Herrington and his team craft mile-high rosemary focaccia, fragrant cardamom buns and wedge-shaped cheddar and scallion scones. Seductive pastries like million-layer croissants – in flavors of classic, pain au chocolat, walnut cream, and blackberry-lavender jam – join drippy cinnamon buns, plum-filled danish and buttery chocolate chip cookies. New arrivals include airy pepperoni rolls, savory hand pies and sugary cookie bars.

In the morning, the café side of the operation whips up coffee drinks (made with Duck-Rabbit) like Americanos, espressos, lattes and cappuccinos. Come lunchtime, chef and general manager Chris Palton offers up one hot soup and two sandwiches, both of which are ready and waiting for quick purchase. The current soup is a vegan roasted tomato ($5), while the meat sandwich of late is the Italian ($10), a popular item that sells out long before closing time. Built on horizontally sliced focaccia, the weighty rectangular sandwich is filled with pepperoni, salami, ham, provolone, tomato and mild but crunchy giardiniera. The vegan option recently has been a chickpea salad sandwich. Herrington anticipates expanding the café menu down the road.

Owing to Covid, all of the tables and chairs are stacked up and pushed to one side of the space. But the intent is for Leavened to become much more than the grab-and-go bakeshop it is now. In time, it will doubtless develop into a buzzy neighborhood café where friends will meet in the morning over coffee and pastries, enjoy midday lunches of soup and sandwiches, and drop by for those crucial late-afternoon caffeine-fueled pick-me-ups.

Still, Herrington says that he’s been flabbergasted by how quickly his off-the-beaten-path bakery has taken off. Most of his customers hail from nearby environs like Tremont, Ohio City and Lakewood, but the owner regularly meets shoppers from all across the region. And by the time the doors to Leavened close for the day, all that remains are crumbs, which is why Herrington sets his alarm for the middle of the night.

“I haven’t had a day off in about three months,” he says, adding that even on the days the shop is closed, he’s hard at work in back. “I’m just frazzled trying to get everything done. When I was at On the Rise I had experience doing just about everything, but my main job wasn’t to do everything. Now, I’m doing everything.”

1633 Auburn Ave., Cleveland

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

First Look: Edwins Too, Opening at Shaker Square this Friday November 20

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2020 at 1:52 PM

  • Douglas Trattner
"People keep asking me why I’m opening right now," says Brandon Chrostowski. "I say, it’s not the best time, but it’s the right time. Right now I've got 30 students and then another class coming in December, but I have half the dining room over at Edwins. I can't have four servers per table so I had to think fast about how to get ahead of this and expand quickly. This space was the key."

The space to which Chrostowski is referring is the former Fire Food and Drink at Shaker Square. Because the location was so close to the Edwins campus, essentially turnkey, and available with a short-term lease, the decision to expand was nearly as effortless as it was imperative.

When Edwins Too (13220 Shaker Sq., 216-400-6091) opens this Friday November 20, it will be a high-end, fine-dining, prix-fixe establishment operated by students and graduates of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, where formerly incarcerated adults acquire culinary and hospitality skills.

The former Fire space has been made warmer, dimmer and, likely, more quiet thanks to spots of carpet and a new sound-dampening divider installed near the open kitchen. The walls have been covered in a soothing coral pink, live plants have been planted here and there, and contemporary art –including Warhols – on loan from a benefactor brightens each room.

Even with the removal of some tables and the spreading out of others, Edwins Too can accommodate 60 diners across the main dining room, lounge and private dining room. Those guests will have a choice between three-, five- and seven-course meals ($55, $75, $95), with or without beverage pairings. Vegan options are available as well. Those courses will be served in and on colorful, whimsical and flowery “granny china.”

Between the amuse bouche and the mignardises, meals might include dishes like foie gras torchon in brioche, chestnut and pheasant soup, poached Dover sole with lobster mousse, and puff pastry layered with orange-vanilla pastry cream and chocolate. The menu will change weekly, Chrostowski says, and visiting high-profile "chefs in residence" will inject their own professional style.

As is the case at Edwins, diners should expect fine food and fine service but not a snooty environment.

“This will be unpretentious and this will be fun,” the boss adds. “If you can’t have fun, we're screwed.”

Edwins Too will be open Fridays through Sunday, with two dinner seatings per night on Friday and Saturday, plus Saturday and Sunday brunch (beginning a week after opening) and Sunday dinner service.

  • Douglas Trattner
  • Douglas Trattner
  • Douglas Trattner

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Esquire Names Chef Doug Katz's Zhug One of 23 Best New Restaurants in America in 2020

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2020 at 9:58 AM

  • Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Esquire isn't telling Clevelanders anything we didn't already know, but readers and diners across the country will now also know that Zhug, Doug Katz's inventive, fun Middle Eastern spot in Cleveland Heights, is one of the best restaurants going these days.

In fact, Esquire says it's one of the 23 best restaurants that opened in the entire country this year.

According to the mag, which put Zhug No. 7 on the list:

You’re going to have a problem if you go to Zhug, because you’re going to want to eat everything. The menu seems to have been written by a hypnotist. Hummus with curried lamb and apricots? Yes. Hummus with nigella seeds and burnt onions? Okay, that too. Smoked pastrami short rib? Yeah, throw that in as well. Skip lunch that day, gather friends, and clear space on the tabletop, because chef Douglas Katz’s vision of the food of the Middle East is the stuff that delirious feasts are made of. 

"I'm so proud of the Zhug team for getting this recognition, but even more importantly, that they have continued to put their all into their work each and every day," Katz told Scene. "We are all excited for the day when we can reopen and share this great reward with the community."

If there's a list of places Cleveland diners can't wait to get back to once the pandemic ends, it's hard to imagine Zhug doesn't top the list, so Katz and company will have plenty of folks to celebrate with.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

Citing Virus Surge and Pressure on Healthcare Workers, Nighttown to Close Until Spring

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 10:48 AM

  • Google Maps

Nighttown owner Brendan Ring was among the very first restaurant owners in Cleveland to shut down operations at the onset of the pandemic.

“We have a moral obligation,” he told Scene on March 12th, announcing that even a sold-out St. Patrick's Day slate of festivities wasn't worth staying open for as the coronavirus began to spread. “We are restaurants; this is where it’s going to spread. Sanitize all you want but it’s coming and it’s going to be a percentage of our population whether we like it or not. And I don’t want to be part of it.”

Eventually, Ring reopened and enjoyed a brisk summer business thanks to the patio and the safety of outdoor dining.

But that warm weather is over, Ohio looks to be in peak surge mode with record-setting Covid case numbers seemingly hitting every day, and the death toll continues to skyrocket around the country.

And now he's among the first batch of Cleveland restaurant owners who have announced that they're closing up shop for the winter, citing not only the surging numbers but the burden on the healthcare system.

Ring announced the winterlong shuttering on Facebook late last week:

To all our Nighttown friends:
We are for sure in unprecedented times.
Let me first of all thank all of our unbelievable customers and friends who have supported us in such large numbers all Summer long.
We have been humbled by your love and support.
A week before lock down in March we took the step of announcing our closure before it was mandated by the Governor.
The day I announced Nighttown would close there were 40 cases a day in Ohio, today there was 8071.
This situation has become untenable. It’s time to understand the pressure our frontline workers are under and their situation is becoming more dire by the day. Being so close to the massive hospital campus down the hill more and more of these folks are telling me everyday how rough it’s getting .
Therefore no matter what the Governor says on Thursday or possibly before that Nighttown will close till further notice on Sunday November 22nd after Brunch service.
Hard times indeed but hopefully we will see you all in the Spring 🔆
Please stay safe and wear a mask.

In an interview with, Ring added a more personal explanation: “For months and months I didn’t know anyone who had died. In the last month I know a ton of people who have gotten it and a number who have died. … It’s become less and less fun. I feel bad for everyone in the industry. We’re in a little bit better shape in that we own our building, and we can sit this out. The next three months will be utterly miserable in this business, and I think it’s time to take a break.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said last week that amid surging numbers he could close restaurants and bars later this week. Whether that comes to pass or whether he institutes a curfew instead, the Cleveland restaurant industry was already looking at a dire winter dining season thanks to the end of PPE and the end of patio season.

In advance of DeWine's possible announcements later this week, a group of Cleveland restaurants have come together to implore the state to allow restaurants that operate safely and within guidelines to stay open.

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Responsible Cleveland Restaurant Owners Band Together for #WeCantClose Effort Aimed at Heading Off Another Statewide Shutdown

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 10:35 AM


As Covid cases continue to rise and fears of another statewide lockdown loom, area restaurant owners are banding together to make their voices heard. Along with the Ohio Restaurant Association, prominent operators are announcing in no uncertain terms that they will be pushed to the brink of failure — or beyond — if there is another shutdown.

Together they have launched the hashtag #wecantclose, an effort aimed squarely at influencing Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who has stated that he is considering more drastic measures if conditions do not quickly improve.

A consistent theme voiced by many restaurant owners is that they often get lumped in with unscrupulous bar and restaurant operators who are not following CDC, state and city safety guidelines. In contrast to the behavior at bars like Barley House, which has received multiple citations for blatantly ignoring rules, responsible operators argue that they are going above and beyond to ensure the safety of staff and guest while minimizing the spread of the disease.

“If we did not think that we could provide a safe environment, we’d close ourselves,” says Nick Kostis of Pickwick & Frolic. “To date, we have committed an excess of $25,000 to equip our team with the necessary PPE and precautionary measures to stay safe. #WeCantClose because our community, our business and employee family cannot sustain another devastating disruption.”

Others who have signed onto the effort include Akin Affrica of Angie’s Soul Food, Steve Daniels of Astoria Market, Sam McNulty of Bier Markt and Bar Cento, Dante Boccuzzi of Dante, Brandon Chrostowski of EDWINS, Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit, Laurie Torres of Mallorca, Malisse Sinito of Marble Room, Said Ouaddaadaa of The Standard, John Lane of Winking Lizard and John Barker of the Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA).

If current conditions continue, and a second shutdown occurs, an estimated 60 percent of dining establishments will close for good, according to the ORA.

“Implementing rigorous health and safety measures has always been at the core of what we do as businesses,” the Ohio Restaurant Association said in a statement. “Many of our members have made significant investments over the past several months to provide additional precautions. We believe that indoor dining, through following the guidance of public health officials, can be done safely.”

Still, as some owners fight for the right to stay open, others are electing to close. Brendon Ring, who was the first to shutter his restaurant Nighttown in spring, has just announced that he will again be closing his doors until spring at the earliest.

“This situation has become untenable,” Ring announced on social media. “It’s time to understand the pressure our frontline workers are under and their situation is becoming more dire by the day. Being so close to the massive hospital campus down the hill more and more of these folks are telling me everyday how rough it’s getting. Therefore no matter what the Governor says on Thursday or possibly before that Nighttown will close till further notice on Sunday November 22nd after Brunch service.”

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Now Open: Shinto Japanese Steakhouse in Westlake

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 9:53 AM

  • Shinto
The conversion from Miami Nights to Shinto Japanese Steakhouse (857 Columbia Rd., 440-772-5017) is complete. After sitting idle for nearly three years, the Westlake building reopened in September. The spiffy new west-side Shinto location joins the 16-year-old original in Strongsville (17070 Pearl Rd., 440-878-3868).

Inside the meticulously renovated space are multiple hibachi tables, conventional tables, a sushi bar and beverage bar. Japanese food fans can look forward to an extensive menu filled with sushi, teriyaki and lively teppanyaki-fueled feasts.

Shinto's owner is Sheng Long Yu, whose name might sound familiar because he's also behind a number of new and newish restaurants around Ohio and beyond. In addition to Shinto, Yu operates Kenko in University Circle and Kent, Dagu Rice Noodle in Asiatown, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, a poke restaurant called iPoke near the Cleveland Clinic and Hell’s Fried Chicken near the Case Western Reserve University campus.

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