CLEVELAND — The foul Year of our Lord 2020 (let us never speak of it again) has cost everyone something – lives, health, jobs, money, education, happiness. Like 2020 itself, I could go on endlessly. I could list all of the ways that our lives worsened this year, but I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know.
In a normal year, dozens of restaurants in our area closing would be a story we covered. In a pandemic, we can’t get to them all, and this is a shame. They all deserve to be recognized. For their employees and for their customers. For trying to fight through this mess. For the memories. They deserve some of our attention. Not just Sokolowski’s and Lola. All of them.
This list of local restaurants that closed during the pandemic was compiled with a heavy heart, as some of these places were favorites of our staff as well. These are the ones we know about. We’re sure there are others, and if you’d like them included, email email@example.com, and we’ll add them and honor them as well.
100th Bomb Group - Cleveland
More: News 5
B Spot – Crocker Park and Strongsville
The Woodmere location is still open
Banter – Gordon Square
The Shaker location is still open
Barroco – Larchmere
The Birdtown, Crocker Park and Willoughby locations are still open
Brim Kitchen + Brewery – Willoughby
Brio – Lyndhurst and Crocker Park
Brubaker's Pub – Akron
The Montrose, Green, Stow and Hudson locations are still open
Cafe Strato's – North Olmsted
More: Cafe Strato's
Cowell & Hubbard – Playhouse Square
Distill Table – Lakewood
Western Reserve Distillers is still in operation
Fire – Shaker Square
John’s Diner – Lakewood
More: Lakewood Observer
Kirbie’s Meats – Stow
More: Akron Beacon Journal
Le Bistro du Beaujolais – Olmsted Falls
Louie’s Bar & Grill – Akron
More: News 5
Lyndhurst Grill – Lyndhurst
Molinari’s – Mentor
Old Fashion Hot Dogs – Cleveland
More: News 5
Poke Fresh - Akron
The Cuyahoga Falls and Highland Heights locations are still open
Retro Dog – Akron
More: Retro Dog
Rose Italian Kitchen – Solon
Ruth’s Chris – Cleveland
Sokolowski’s – Cleveland
The Rail – North Olmsted and Canton
The Akron and Strongsville locations are still open
Thursday’s Lounge – Akron
More: News 5
Washington Place Bistro and Inn – Cleveland
Willoughby Brewing Company – Willoughby
XO Prime Steaks – Cleveland
More: News 5
Yours Truly – Shaker Square
The Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Mayfield Village, Medina, Mentor, Playhouse Square, Rockside and Solon locations are still open
Zaytoon Lebanese Kitchen – Cleveland
They each deserve their own eulogy, but this will have to do.
All restaurants, like the ones we lost, are different, yet the same.
A restaurant is never just a business. It’s an owner’s vision and hope – a risk whose reward is meaningful work and a connection with customers and employees. There’s no guarantee of meaning or worth with an office job or in manual labor. I imagine this is why restaurant owners work so hard. There are other ways to make money. It’s a passion. It’s identity. It can be a life of creating and deepening relationships.
For workers, the restaurant is a paycheck and sometimes something more. I know folks who do it because the money is good enough, or they like working in food, or they’re saving money for something like school, or they’re avoiding or biding their time to get work in another field. Restaurants tend to attract a good number of life’s prime numbers -- true characters, rebels and the wonderfully weird. The melting pot-ness of it all can make working in a kitchen or dining room memorable.
Of course, it’s the customer who makes or breaks a restaurant. I worked at Yours Truly in Mayfield Village as a dishwasher to pay for school. I became familiar with the waves of regulars. The old folks started in around 4 p.m. The families came around 6. The dates rolled in around 8. The high school kids and their families showed up after the basketball game or wrestling match. On Sunday morning, we had the church crowds from St. Francis. They gathered at the same tables and same booths in a longstanding tradition that pre-dated my employment and lasted past it. Without them all, no Yours Truly.
I learned things washing dishes no one taught me at school -- mainly how to look out for others. Every Saturday between 5 and 10, we’d get slammed. My friend Anthony who got me the job there introduced me to the term “in the weeds.” You don’t want to be “in the weeds.” When I was in the weeds, that meant dishes were not getting out, and tables were not being set, and customers were not being seated, and the dining room turned over more slowly, all of which hurt the wait staff’s tips, which was how they made money. Those lessons come in handy when you work in news. There are a lot of people to think about at a TV station that employs over 100 people whose viewers span all of Northeast Ohio.
I’m not saying everyone should work at a restaurant at some point in their lives, but I’m 100 percent convinced we’d all be better workers – and better customers – if we did.
There is something I've noticed -- a pattern -- while watching restaurant after restaurant close in this pandemic. When one closes, most people have the same reaction. They say the same words. They express regret and say, “I love that place.”
The closing of any local business is sad for someone, but the death of a restaurant carries emotional weight. They are part of the fabric of our lives. To be human is to enjoy eating at a table you don’t have to set while being served by hands that are not your own and eating food that you did not have to cook.
For thousands of years, people have eaten at restaurants. You can find them in countries all over the earth – in downtowns, strip malls, neighborhoods, train stations, old homes and countrysides. If you can put a roof over it, someone will put a restaurant under it.
When we travel, we go out to eat. When we celebrate, we eat out. The rehearsal dinner before the wedding takes place in a restaurant. The first meal after the cemetery, for our family, is also in a restaurant. Restaurants, more than any other business, mark the span of our lives, which is why when one dies, it pains us, because they hold such much of us inside of them.
Here's hoping we, as a country, get out of the weeds in 2021, and more of us get back into restaurants.
Planning editor Devon Marti contributed to this report.