Creating a Kind of One Experience
By Carlo Wolff
When Todd Leebow was living in Los Angeles, a friend advised him to read the last page of a script first. That way, he could tell whether reading the whole thing would be worthwhile.
“Start at the last page, where most of the meat is,” Leebow says in an interview at The Last Page, the 200-seat restaurant he and fellow founding partner Gary Shamis opened in Orange’s Pinecrest mixed-use development in February 2021. “If you start with that, you can navigate how you want to enjoy your whole experience.”
Asked about the derivation of his modern American restaurant’s name, Leebow says, “The best way to say it is, the best stories come together on the last page.”
Leebow’s and Shamis’ hospitality group, Kind of One Concepts, manages The Last Page. Its clever name, too, carries meaning.
“You know the phrase ‘one of a kind?’” asks Leebow, who is also CEO of the family-owned company Majestic Steel USA. “One of a kind can be perceived as one of many, where with Kind of One, we’re looking to create a unique concept, something you’ve never experienced before.” Whether you’re eating The Last Chicken Sandwich (with pickled banana peppers, yum yum sauce and iceberg lettuce, on a Hawaiian bun), a side of crispy potatoes and a beer on tap, or sitting on the patio sharing dishes with friends, the idea is “to have a Kind of One experience every time.”
Restaurants were the key niche at SS&G, Shamis’ former CPA firm, and he became “infatuated in terms of servicing them,” he says.
“Friends say I’m a foodie,” says Shamis, who is now CEO of Winding River Consulting, a company he founded in 2016. “I’m not a foodie, I’m a restaurant person. I like the ambiance, the service. I like the food, I like the creativity.”
In a sense, The Last Page is a laboratory for both men.
“Todd and I have a lot in common with respect to us being entrepreneurial business owners,” Shamis says. “I think one of the commonalities is we really like to build things. There’s nothing I like more to do than build something. And when he approached me and we talked about this, the whole idea was to be able to build something that would be challenging to do. Here we are 18 months later, and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to build.”
A Team Approach
The underlying tenets of their restaurant are providing a memorable experience for the customer and continuous improvement – a process veteran accountant Shamis explores in his business books. Every day, both men suggest, is hard work. Every day is also a joy. Since The Last Page opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, business has steadily increased, largely due to word-of-mouth and social media. Where brunch used to draw 12, it now hosts 200.
“I always say that the restaurant is a live production every single day and so therefore, every day is unique,” says Leebow, who in 2007 moved back to Ohio from Los Angeles, where he was launching his own film company, to run Majestic Steel. That means “you have to bring consistency to the guest, and the guest is also unique.”
“When you really get behind the scenes, this is all based upon people with talent,” Shamis elaborates.
The talent roster at The Last Page, Shamis says, includes Brad Race, head of culinary, plucked from the hot Los Angeles restaurant Catch LA; executive chef Logan Abbe, formerly of Sawyer’s and The Greenhouse Tavern; and Jordan Rolleston, culinary director and former private chef at Majestic Steel.
“I like to think we’re strategic and smart, but we’re also a little bit lucky, and we have put together just this amazing team of people,” says Shamis, who served as chair of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company Board of Directors from 2007 to 2010. The CJPC publishes Jstyle.
As Shamis’ career seasons, he says, “I like the energy of working with younger people. This has given me the opportunity to spend time with Todd, with our chef, our team, getting to meet our managers. To me, it’s just been a lot of fun.”
Shamis attends The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood. Leebow and his family primarily attend B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike.
At The Last Page, Shamis says, Leebow is the visionary. He’s the stabilizer.
Home Away From Home
What interested Leebow in hospitality?
His life, outside family, revolves around meetings and meals.
“I’ve always enjoyed hospitality. I like taking on new challenges, and I saw an opportunity to bring something unique to the market,” he says.
Leebow has lived in Miami, Los Angeles and New York. “In coming back to Cleveland, I wanted to bring something that was unique, that you might find more in a larger market when it comes to the hospitality side of it.
“Gary and I have known each other my whole life and worked together, and he had a lot of experience in the hospitality-restaurant space,” he adds.
“What makes a community is places to go, gathering places,” Leebow says. “To me, a restaurant is that. That’s what The Last Page is. It’s a place where you can go and share great food and enjoy yourself with friends, family, with business colleagues.”
While the restaurant won’t turn away solo diners who make themselves comfortable at one of its two bars, the goal is a sense of community generated by unique food.
“Our dishes are intended to share,” Leebow says. “Everything that comes out of the kitchen is a scratch dish, so our chefs are making things and all of the dishes are unique in terms of classic dishes, but executed with global influences and flavors.”
Challenges and Plans
Not only did COVID-19 push back The Last Page opening for about a year, staffing continues to be an issue.
“The labor market is definitely challenging,” Leebow says. “We’re fortunate we have a great management team, but getting people to come and buy into what we’re doing and be a part of it – you have to be a part of it – it’s they who make the difference.”
The five things guests care about in a restaurant are the space, the food, the beverages, the service and the vibe, Leebow says. The last encompasses everything from unique cocktails like Grapefruit Buzz (apple brandy, Cointreau and more) to unusual dishes like Broken Egg Fried Rice (kimchi, spinach, egg yolk). The experience should always be different, yet consistent.
The place is multi-textured, its palette the palette of success: gold, silver, earthy yet at the same time, highly polished.
“Every detail is unbelievable, even the bathrooms,” Shamis says. “We have four individual bathrooms, every one of which was designed differently, and every one is beautiful. Who else does that? You walk in here and see how the bar is highlighted. The place feels good. And through our culinary team, I think it’s some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had.”
And the only one of its kind in Cleveland.
“This is going to be one per market,” Shamis says. “We have a really talented group. We want to keep them busy, we want to challenge them, so we’re going to be looking at some other concepts in Cleveland with our team, but not The Last Page. Out of Cleveland it’s going to be The Last Page.”
“We think this restaurant will translate very well to many markets,” Leebow adds.
At the same time, Kind of One is upgrading the former Village Square Pizza in Woodmere, which Kind of One bought from longtime owner Joe DeGaetano this spring. Village Square used to deliver to Leebow’s home, so buying it “was nostalgic to me,” he says. Plans call for updated ingredients and presentation, and “we’ll do it our way,” he says.
“Restaurants are synonymous with challenges,” Shamis says. “If it was easy, there would be a lot more people who are successful. But neither one of us likes easy.”
Their hard work is paying off with acclaim. Not only did Cleveland Magazine name The Last Page the best new restaurant of 2022, it also won for best brunch, best cocktails and, in Abbe, best chef.
“If we do this right, when we open up in Miami or Chicago we’re going to do it right there, with local touches,” Shamis says.
When he and Leebow get together every month or so, Shamis says, “I know exactly what he’s going to say: He’s questioning me on what could we do better. Every single time.”