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Northeast Ohio non-profit turns dreams into reality for award-winning Cleveland chef

Posted at 5:20 PM, Sep 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-27 18:31:24-04

CLEVELAND — Coming up with the cash to turn dreams into reality can be a challenge, however, there's hope for those who don't have access to traditional lending.

Jeremy Umansky knows that firsthand. He left for the bright lights of New York City to attend the Culinary Institute of America, but that came with a hefty price-tag of $30,000 a year for tuition.

"You had two choices, you could stay in town and work in steel or some sort of manufacturing or you could decide to chase something out of here, and I decided I wanted to work hard and get out of Cleveland," said Jeremy Umansky. "I wanted to go to the best culinary school."

While Umansky found a way to swing tuition, he came up short on the cash needed for books and professional knives.

The aspiring chef found an interest-free loan through Hebrew Free Loan Association of Northeast Ohio.

"We're often that last amount that really helps someone move forward," said Michal Marcus, Executive Director of HFLA of Northeast Ohio. "It's truly relationship lending. It comes from Jewish principal that one should not charge interest when helping someone in need and the highest form of charity is truly empowering someone to help themselves."

For 115-years now, HFLA, which operates solely on donations, has been offering need-based education and small business loans.

"To not essentially be penalized for having to use somebody else's money is just a fantastic thing," Umansky said.

Even though it was a non-profit from his hometown that helped him achieve his dream, Umansky had no plans to return.

"Actually it was my wife, who's an Okie—she's from Oklahoma—she made that decision," Umansky said.

The land he left was not the one that welcomed him back though—it's better.

“It's not the Cleveland I grew up with, it's not the Cleveland I remember. It's the Cleveland I always wanted to have," Umansky said.

Just four years after his arrival, Umansky, his wife and another chef opened Larder Delicatessen and Bakery in Hingetown.

"To know that I can be in the heart of our urban economy and be making a difference in our community in various ways, it's just incredibly gratifying," Umansky said.

Reminders of the interest-free loan that helped make this all possible are within his reach all these years later.

"I actually still have here in this kitchen a couple of those knives and we have some of those books here in this kitchen," Umansk said.

The award-winning chef now finds himself in a position to pay it forward. He just made a donation to HFLA to help keep someone else's dream alive.

"It isn't just about the money. It's about spreading the word about you can achieve your dreams and there are people that are doing to help you and you're not going to have to suffer along the way to have to do it," Umansky said.

To learn more about HFLA of Northern Ohio click here.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.