Monday, March 01, 2010

Chef Michael Symon Transforms Cleveland's Restaurant Scene: Associated Content

Repost from Associated Content

By Jennifer Daddario

A born-and-raised Clevelander, Food Network Iron Chef, restaurateur and author, Michael Symon has changed the food game in Cleveland.
Symon is Cleveland's food darling, and others are taking notice. "He's opened not only doors, but hallways and bridges," says fellow chef and owner of Fahrenheit restaurant Rocco Whalen.
"I definitely think his national exposure has made people take notice of what we have happening with independent restaurants in the Cleveland market," says Douglas Katz, chef and owner of Fire Food & Drink in Shaker Heights. An added bonus, Katz says, is that Clevelanders are realizing what restaurants have to offer in Cleveland.
In 1997, Symon and his future wife, Liz, opened their first restaurant, Lola, in the historic Tremont neighborhood to rave reviews. Quickly after, Symon was named a National Rising Star by Restaurant Hospitality magazine and one of the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine. In 2005, Lola was reopened in the up-and-coming Cleveland neighborhood of East Fourth Street, and the Tremont location was converted to Lolita. Today, Symon is the chef and owner of Lola, Lolita, Michael Symon's Roast in Detroit, and the casual bar/eateries The B Spot and Bar Symon in Avon Lake.
Amy Bruderly, an Eastside resident, says Symon's success has definitely influenced her dining choices. "If I'm going to a fine dining restaurant, I want to go to a restaurant in an area that is popular and trendy," she says. "That's where his restaurants are."
Bruderly says she enjoys dining out in the Tremont area because of its many restaurants, most of which she has tried. The draw of a Michael Symon restaurant has translated into success for the area in which it sits. "My restaurant has obviously never been busier," Whalen says. "The best thing I ever did was become part of a neighborhood entrenched in a good thing."
Whalen opened Fahrenheit in 2001 two blocks from the original Lola. The Tremont neighborhood, he explains, has evolved into a chef's neighborhood, and Symon was "the first catalyst down there."
The light Symon has shone on fine dining in Cleveland has created a positive view of what's available in the city, Katz says, and "given people locally a chance to say we do have special options in Cleveland." Symon's success has helped increase awareness of Cleveland as a dining destination, adds Michelle Lefkowitz, marketing director at Sushi Rock.
The showcasing of Cleveland on a national level, from appearing on the Food Network's "No Reservations" to James Beard dinners, has brought celebrities and tourists alike to the city. "On any given night, Courtney Cox could be in the private room downstairs at Lolita," Whalen laughs. "It's to the point where I don't even scoff anymore."
"He's taken the culinary level in Cleveland and made it higher than it ever would have been," Whalen says. "Symon put Cleveland as a dining destination on the map." It's the job of other Cleveland chefs to follow the lead and add to fine dining in the area, he says.
Symon has even expanded his restaurant empire to the food offerings at Quicken Loans Arena. The stand where patrons can grab a Symon burger and fries always has a long line. "Where else can you in a facility or arena have that kind of burger based on general event fare?" Whalen asks. "It's an opportunity and he's running with it. He's in Spain and running with the bulls."
Better quality and fresher products are just a few of the specific ways Symon has changed the food world in Cleveland, Whalen says. "He garners the opportunity to bring in better quality products for all of us, chefs and patrons, to enjoy," the chef says. "He never ceases to amaze me with the things he does."