Unless you’re on the lookout, it’s easy to drive right past Flame Urban Chicken Grill—an unlikely oasis of healthy eats tucked inside a Glenville strip mall. The fast casual startup is a rarity in a neighborhood the USDA defines as an impoverished food desert, where more than one-quarter of households are without vehicle access and are at least a half-mile trek from the nearest supermarket.
Surrounded by dollar menus and gas stations doling out fried chicken dinners, proprietor Ziad Achkar—former owner of the Little Caesars pizzeria located in the same plaza—is committed to trying to bring nutritious foods to the masses. It’s an ambitious undertaking he’s assuming with gusto, including plans for franchise expansion.
Glenville is one of 14 Cleveland neighborhoods in which its heart disease mortality rate of 304.4 persons per 100,000 is higher than the city’s average of 265.8 per 100,000, according to the Cleveland Department of Public Health.
Ziad believes a two-pronged approach, combining education that empowers healthy home cooking and alternatives to calorie-dense, cholesterol-laden prepared meals, is the solution. His concept is centered around chicken—marinated overnight, grilled over an open flame, and served with approachable ingredients to build customizable entrees and bowls. Though similar in structure to Chipotle and Qdoba, the menu is a mosaic of ethnic global inspirations, where house-made sauces incorporate Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, and classic American flavors.
Ziad’s staff, all of whom are residents from the area, continually work with him to tweak the menu according to customer preferences. Soon, baked potatoes will be added as an alternative to the pair of rice options offered. For customers who prefer a plated entrée, sides like roasted corn, brushed with cream sauce and a three-cheese blend of Parmesan, Romano and asiago, can be combined with grilled chicken pieces, wings, or tenders. Healthier hydration options include bottled water and noncarbonated beverages like iced tea and juice.
Conscious about his carbon footprint, Ziad utilizes local purveyors when possible, including chicken from Gerber’s Amish Farm and produce grown in urban agriculture programs at Michael R. White Elementary School and Cleveland Crops. Compostable eco-friendly packaging and flatware made from sugar cane pulp are packed into recyclable bags for carryout orders.
Ziad is going the extra mile to ensure families in the area have an opportunity to try his nutritious menu. Healthy cooking classes are on the horizon, and he plans to persuade moms to attend a half-hour demonstration by providing them with a free dinner.
As word spreads among locals, catering jobs and far-flung deliveries through GrubHub, Skip the Dishes, and Uber Eats are sustaining the business. “A lot of people ask if we have fried chicken, and they turn around and walk right back out,” Ziad says. “Many of those would-be customers return a few weeks later on the word-of-mouth recommendation from a neighbor, and once they’ve tried it, they always come back.”
Flame Urban Chicken Grill is open daily at 10330 St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland. For more information, call 216.761.6600 or visit FlameUrbanGrill.com.