Cleveland has become nationally known for independent and sustainable restaurants, but it's the unique personalities and uncompromising hard work that the individuals behind these establishments infuse into each dish.
Some of those personalities — from the whimsical to methodical — were on display Thursday during the “Cleveland 2.0: Cleveland's Emerging Chefs” program at the City Club of Cleveland.
Participating chefs were: Heather Haviland, chef of Lucky's and Vine & Bean; Chris Hodgson and Jeremy Esterly, owners of mobile food truck Dim & Den Sum; Michael Nowak, chef of Bar Cento and Bier Markt; and Matthew Mathlage, chef of Light Bistro.
The panel was moderated by Michael C. DeAloia, practice leader of the Local Advocacy Practice at LNE Group.
During the event, these up-and-coming chefs touted Cleveland's culinary industry, its reliance on sustainable foods and practices, and local consumers' desire for new and different dining concepts as reasons they are committed to operating here in Cleveland.
They also provided insight behind their passion for the industry, as well as perspectives on culinary education versus hands-on experience and the challenges in running a business.
As Ms. Haviland said, “The food industry has been a bit misleading with the young work force because everyone thinks we're rock stars. When you're on your hands and knees scrubbing the walk-in, you don't feel like a rock star.”
Mr. Esterly added: “We work 20 hours a day, six days a week.”
They all agreed that passion and being a “little crazy” also were key ingredients to running a restaurant (or driving a mobile food cart), as well as handling employees' personalities and work ethic.
When asked why they thought Cleveland has such a burgeoning culinary industry, Mr. Mathlage said it was because it's cheaper to open a restaurant than in other large cities. Plus, the protégés of such seasoned veterans as Karen Small, chef/owner of the Flying Fig, and Douglas Katz, chef/owner of Fire, are starting up their own restaurants here.
“I think Cleveland can really handle more restaurants before it starts to hurt another restaurant,” Mr. Nowak said. “There's more diversity here. There are not just a bunch of chains, some fine dining and some independent restaurants here and there.
“There are little restaurants, taco places, food carts, hot dog stands … I don't think I've eaten at the same restaurant twice in the last two months,” Mr. Nowak said.
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