A look at his new ventures and the methods behind them as well as saying farewell to Fire
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Doug via webcam and learn even more about the Cleveland legend and local treasure. As a fan of many of Doug’s restaurants including Fire, Provenance, Zhug, Chutney B and Chimi, I wanted to know more about his theories on some of the smaller offshoots of his enterprise that have been shaking up Cleveland and Shaker Heights.
Starting with Chutney B in the Van Aken food hall, this food stand is quietly busy and has many die-hard fans. Doug explained that it was never his idea to make Chutney B a larger food stand or a stand alone concept. Instead, he has been using it to slowly better understand the tastes of the customers by the choices they’ve made from the menu. See, the menu is cleverly composed of dishes inspired from Indian, Thai, Moroccan and Latin cuisines. By using this space as an offshoot from his current catering business and providing several different choices, he has been able to better define what people really want to eat. The winner so far? Indian dishes, hands down. And more so, Doug is excited to be a part of what Van Aken is providing to the community and wants to generate foot traffic. The more the hustle and bustle the better…….
As for Zhug, Doug traveled to Israel (pre-COVID 19) and brought back many of their flavors because he was excited about their unique approach-ability with food. In fact, the concept of sharing small plates at Zhug allows customers to try many different things and therefore feel more confident trying new foods they may not ordinarily have tried. I personally have had business dinners there and it’s been a great ice breaker trying all the items and having discussions about the garden-inspired cocktails as well as the flavorful dishes. A few favorites are the Harissa Peanut Hummus (spicy, rich and deep flavors, smooth consistency), smoked octopus (perfectly tender, smokey and meaty-- even if you don’t usually like octopus, this will rock your world) and the butter roasted shrimp (usually we have to get at least 2 orders to satiate everyone at the table they are so good). The ambience straddles a clean and relaxed environment while also being upscale and romantic. It’s a definite weekend must-try for take out and/or dining in when it’s available. Side note: The octopus is not currently available in a carry out environment.
Plus, if you order take out, you might get Doug personally delivering your meal! Throughout the COVID-19 months, Doug has been interfacing with clients safely to show his restaurant is reputable. Also to keep the connection between himself and his customers, which is ultimately the most important thing to him.
The latest and most secretive of his ventures….. Chimi. This South American based restaurant is called a “ghost kitchen” meaning it’s all carryout and no dining space at all. It’s located in Cleveland Heights alongside Rising Star coffee in the old Diner. The main theme here is everything goes together and you can’t order wrong! The proteins, the veggies, the rice, beans all go with the tortillas and/or the chips. Your family can mix and match their favorite tastes as they want. The most delicious thing on the menu that I can suggest is the JackFruit tamales. It may not have been something I would have gravitated towards normally but I trust pretty much everything Doug makes so I was willing to try. It was so tender and flavorful that I would have sworn it was pulled meat (perhaps pork?) instead of vegetarian. The texture and consistency was hearty and fulfilling. I’ve already been back twice more just for that one dish! But opening Chimi during COVID was a risk. Doug explains that the facility was empty and by only doing take out, it was possible to just try it out as a concept. There was a security to doing it this way and he had an ability to build a customer base slowly. Then when times return more to normal, he’s got a customer base ready to follow him into a brick and mortar location. Can’t wait to hear more and find out where the new spot will be!
It’s hard to condense this article into a short(ish) blog but I will say Doug is a true visionary for Cleveland. His restaurants are always best in the city and I’ve never had something that I didn’t like from his menu. One thing I’ve always admired about Doug is his ability to incorporate local ingredients in his menus and he was doing it way before anyone else. He’s learned throughout his years (mainly with Fire in Shaker Square), that it’s all about relationships. Local relationships that is. You have to establish a rapport with your vendors and your customers if you want them to support you in return. Doug believes in a circle of relationships. You give and you receive. It’s a community effort meaning you go to the farmers market on a Saturday to stock your kitchen with local produce (yes, I’ve seen Doug there!). You work with local vendors and you serve their amazing food. You get to know your customers and in hard times, you work with charities to help give back to the community that is hurting. Doug is in the middle of all of this and working diligently to help Cleveland get back on track. He’s been extremely visible and vocal with many local charities and a true stand-out among his peers with his efforts.
One last note…..I’m sure many of you know that Doug has made the difficult decision to close his legendary restaurant Fire in Shaker Square. Many happy memories have been made there by Doug’s team and by the many patrons who have loved it for years. But it basically boiled down to the fact that there was no safe way to open Fire up again in the manner it was designed to be operated. As an open, communal space for friends and family to enjoy food and interact with their community. And Doug didn’t want to tarnish its grand reputation with something that wasn’t as great as before.
So we will wish it farewell sadly and hope for a brighter future with many more wonderful restaurants by Doug. I can’t wait to see what he will do next! Whatever it is, save me a seat. I’ll be there opening night.