When Cleveland Restaurant Week first launched in 2004, names like Zack Bruell and Jonathan Bennett had yet to cement themselves in the minds and hearts of Cleveland diners; Melt Bar and Grilled hadn’t unleashed their cheesy, gargantuan sandwiches on the world; and the likes of Spice Kitchen, Luxe, and Toast Wine Bar hadn’t opened their doors uplifting Gordon Square’s foodie scene with their rusticchic cuisines.
Bennett, the current president of Cleveland Independents and chef and partner at Moxie, the Restaurant and Red, the Steakhouse, remembers the landscape 10 years ago, “The East Side of Cleveland saw about 6,000 new dining seats and they were all out-of-town chains, so we wanted to team up to be a marketing force and a driving force in our community.”
Teaming up with his business partner Brad Friedlander, Sergio Abramof, Douglas Katz, Fran Geraci, and a handful of others, Bennett sprang into action and organized an area chapter of a national marketing and buying group, initially called the Cleveland Originals, and now known as Cleveland Independents, to promote restaurants with local roots.
The main priority of Cleveland Independents always has been to increase the visibility of locally run eateries. Its most successful marketing campaign, Cleveland Restaurant Week, celebrated its 10th run in November. For the past five years, the group also has published “The Deck,” which is a 50-card pack of $10 coupons to member restaurants. It’s designed to incentivize diners to try something new.
Over time, their efforts have paid off. Not only has the group grown from 20 members to around 90, but together they have increased diners’ awareness of the variety and quality of locally owned establishments.
“When we started, it was about maintaining our place in the diners’ minds,” Bennett says. “Now, people want to support their local businesses. We were on the defensive 10 years ago, and now we are on the offensive.”
For this year’s holiday season, Cleveland Independents has put together three cookbooks, each focusing on a different neighborhood and the chefs and restaurants that define it. The three volumes are available for purchase online, at select restaurant locations, and at CLE Clothing on East 4th Street in downtown Cleveland.
“If you get all three, you are covered from Sandusky to the East Side,” says marketing maven Myra Orenstein, who works with Cleveland Independents. “These are very special recipes from each of the chefs—they aren’t their typical recipes they would disclose to anyone.”
For the locally minded gourmands in your life, or for those who have yet to explore Cleveland’s independent restaurants, visit ClevelandIndependents.com for more ideas on how to give the gift of eating local.