As summer fades in, Northeast Ohioans are being greeted by warm weather, but are likely still cautious about classic summer social activities like sharing a meal with friends or exploring new neighborhoods together. Local dining and retail spots, such as Zhug, Luna Bakery & Cafe and Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights’ Cedar Fairmount district, are slowly returning to normalcy, although with some necessary social distancing alterations. By sharing our photoshoot from the neighborhood that took place just before the pandemic hit Ohio, Jstyle is looking forward to the return of such activities and is hopeful for the continued success of the local businesses that let us stop in.
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The Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant in Cleveland Heights’ Cedar Fairmount neighborhood opened last year, named after the Yemeni hot sauce that pairs with the menu. The space is open and sunny, with a minimalistic, modern yet earthy look.
After closing for dine-in service due to the pandemic in March, Zhug switched to curbside pickup and delivery – all via an easy-to-use online platform. The restaurant also made some minor menu changes to highlight foods that travel best and are more home style, and different specials.
Zhug owner and chef Doug Katz says the restaurant’s staff is talking dates for reopening for table service.
“It sort of just depends, but we are thinking maybe the next four weeks we would consider it, but we just want to make sure everything is stable and we didn’t want to be the first ones,” to reopen, Katz says.
On top of making sure Zhug continues to cook delicious takeout – food emphasizing spices and strong flavors – Katz opened a new ghost kitchen in Cleveland Heights for South American-inspired takeout. Chimi, named after chimichurri, an Argentinian herb relish, opened June 12 for curbside pickup and delivery only – summery food for a different kind of seasonal dining experience.
“It’s certainly not like being open, but it feels safe for our employees, it feels safe for the community. It’s a small team and we’re able to really prepare great food and the system is just working well. So we are enjoying doing it – we are excited to come back one day, but we’re not ready yet.”
Doug Katz, owner
Luna Bakery & Cafe
The bakery known for its delicious cakes and pastries, as well as coffee drinks, crepes and more, has been a growing presence in the Cleveland Heights community since 2011. But when the pandemic hit, it converted to takeout only.
Luna reopened its patio for dining once Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine allowed it, says owner Bridget Thibeault. And around June 1, indoor dining reopened at Luna, although due to the nice weather, most customers have elected to munch on treats and sip coffee outside. The bakery’s Moreland Hills location – which had been closed since March 18 – also reopened in early June, with limited hours.
“Our sales are definitely down – we are probably doing about 50% of what we normally would do this time of year,” Thibeault says. “But we have seen an increase over the last couple weeks, so we are hoping it will just continue to grow as the summer goes on.”
Another downside for the business is as people avoid big gatherings, they also aren’t ordering wedding cakes from Luna Cake Shop. The bakery is well known for its colorful, intricate and tasty designs. And there is the loss of catering orders for other large parties, like graduations, that are typical this time of year. The bakery also had to lay off staff, but has now been able to bring most back.
Thibeault says as the weather warms and the state relaxes orders, “some confidence is coming back” for people looking to go out and visit local spots like hers. She says the bakery has also started offering decorating kits for cakes and cookies, as well as take-and-bake sticky buns and cookie dough to aid customers with their home baking endeavors that may have become a hobby during the quarantine.
“I’m thinking more about wholesale and how can we sustain ourselves if something like this were to happen again,” Thibeault says.
“It’s just so odd that you can’t plan for it – we had no idea what was coming. We were coming off of like our best year ever – we’ve grown every year. So we definitely had to change how we are doing things.”
Bridget Thibeault, owner
The independent neighborhood bookstore that has been in business for 46 years shut its doors when the pandemic hit Ohio in March. Since then, it’s slowly coming back to life in a new form.
“It’s really a mainstay in the neighborhood, and I really hope that we are able to maintain it,” says owner Lynn Quintrell. “We are working very hard because it’s been such a community presence for so many years.”
Quintrell says the store first reopened around April 15 to accommodate curbside pickup and home delivery of email and phone orders. It has since increased its hours due to strong business.
And one new service the bookstore developed to prevent physical contact between people and items is referred to as the book guru. A customer can make an appointment with a staff member knowledgeable about books who – from at least 6 feet away and outside the store – will make recommendations based on the reader’s interest. The book guru will then sell the customer the books they choose.
“It’s a way to bring the merchandise to the customer without the customer coming all the way into the store,” Quintrell says.
“Every week we tweak what we are doing. It’s like a whole new world – what worked maybe last week could be improved this week.”