Setting the Table for the RNC at Cleveland's Downtown Restaurants

Jul 15, 2016

The owners of Cleveland’s downtown restaurants are setting the table for the RNC with mixed emotions: Simmering excitement with just a dollop of dread.

Logistics have been challenging. Security remains a concern. But in today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports Cleveland’s chefs are  hoping to “wow” the RNC.

“Rock the Night in Cleveland” will be a VIP affair for delegates and their families  at Zack Hirt’s new Neuvo Modern Mexican restaurant. It’s where the storied “Captain Frank’s” seafood restaurant once stood.

“A remarkable view of the lake,” says Hirt, “from here on the second floor.” 

Zack Hirt now has two Nuevo Modern Mexican Restaurants. One is in downtown Akron and the new one is on Cleveland's East 9th Street pier.
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / w

Trump presence not confirmed
Hirt says he doesn’t know yet whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will be at the kick-off party to sample his Mexican cuisine.

Hirt hasn’t even opened for business yet and construction was still underway a couple weeks ago. We had to wear a hard hat to take a tour.

But Hirt says all will be ready for Sunday’s party.

“Only the top brass are allowed to come into Nuevo. We’re going to have eight chefs there including myself, Cleveland-area chefs, Jonathon Sawyer, Michael Symon, Doug Katz, etc.”

Suburbs and Akron may benefit
Throughout next week, Hirt thinks security and traffic obstacles in the city may benefit outer ring restaurants.

“It’s going to be crazy down here for sure," he says. But in Akron, "It’s kind of an unknown. The hotels are all booked. There’s a 4 a.m. liquor extension. We have that in case we need it. We’ll see how it goes.”

“I’ve been in sort of denial for the last six months waiting for this to happen, but here we are now,” says Zack Bruell. He has a lot at stake as the owner of 11 restaurants in the city of Cleveland.

“We’ve sold out two of our venues: Chinato, which is at the front door of the convention, and Cowell and Hubbard, which is several blocks away. So there’s convenience there.”

All a-Twitter on East 4th Street

Sawyer is calling the new drink Pachuga Paloma.
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / WKSU

And Jonathon Sawyer has sold out the Greenhouse Tavern to Twitter.

We found him last week working with his bartenders prototyping a mescal cocktail for next week’s special guests.

“We’ll just roll it with orange and do a little zest. Let’s top it with club soda, too, so it’s more of like a Collins , maybe, and less like a highball.” 

He says he’ll stoke up the social networkers with his usual farm-fresh fare.

“We have three meals with Twitter every day starting at 7 a.m., and some nights we go really late.”

An RNC cocktail
He’s designing his “Pachuga Paloma” cocktail with Twitter’s busy executives in mind.

“We’re talking about peoplewho may only see 4 to 5 hours of sleep every single night, multiple nights in a row; you know they need a little release afterwards.”

And munchies. He’s also prototyping a specialty pretzel.

“Maybe a little raw garlic over top, and then some more of that pecorino, and then some black pepper. And the debate that I’m having now is do we need to put some of this organic garlic in our dough.”

Sawyer is also prototyping a new pretzel for Twitter execs to snack on.
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / WKSU

Security concerns
Taking pains to please are nothing new to the James Beard Award winner and Food Network regular. But catering to concerns of the Secret Service has been challenging.

“Because we’re inside of the electro-magnetic zone, people are going to have to walk through metal detectors just to get into the building -- whether they’re using the bathroom or delivering food. But it’s just part of preparing for the week.” 

Zach Bruell says tight security, like chaos and confusion, is to be expected.

“It’s five days of pandemonium, but to me it’s about the future of Cleveland. And if this is executed properly, hopefully, then Cleveland will be well on its way.” 

Just being nice
The Washington Post’s food critic recently slammed Cleveland’s restaurants for what he called “some of the worst restaurant service in years” adding “Good luck, GOP.”

Zack Bruell says criticism can be a good thing. But he’s not worried about his own carefully trained staff impressing the RNC.

“It’s real simple. It’s all about being nice. You know the service doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you’re nice, where some of these people are coming from they’re not used to nice.”

Zack Bruell is keeping his Alley Cat open to the public, but it is booked for private parties during the RNC.
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / WKSU

Bruell says he has only one concern.

“First and foremost is security that nothing happens. I’m confident but you never know. The world’s become a crazy place, and we’re front and center for five days.”

Sawyer expects Cleveland to shine in the spotlight. “And from this, from the RNC, we can birth more of these opportunities to host All-Star games, conventions, food shows, television shows.”

Update:  We originally reported that the Doobie Brothers would headline Sunday night's RNC kick-off party.  A Destination Cleveland official tells WKSU News that the Doobie Brothers have cancelled and the headline act for the invitation-only affair at North Coast Harbor will be Three Dog Night.