Brennan's Colony: an 'old friend' serves up classic American fare

Richard Wise, kitchen manager and head chef, with Jim Brennan, owner. Photo by Richard Stewart.

Over time, a favorite local restaurant begins to take on the characteristics of an old friend—ever-present, reliable and welcoming. Few eateries personify that quality better than Brennan’s Colony at the corner of Lee and Silsby roads.

To longtime neighborhood residents, the place is known simply as The Colony. What began as a bartending job for Jim Brennan, in 1981, turned into more than 20 years of successful ownership of the local institution.

 “I was a waiter in college and kind of fell into it. Once I became involved, I developed a knack for it,” Brennan said. “We’re lucky to have a great location with more than ample parking in the back and all near the best housing stock in the Midwest.”

A 1954 picture of a former owner of the establishment, known as Uncle Gus, hangs high above the bar, and Brennan greets customers by name as Thursday’s lunch is served.

Brennan’s Colony has become known, and loved, for classic all-American cooking. The extensive menu features chicken carbonara; meat loaf with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans; burgers; salads; Colony wraps and other traditional cuisine.

Richard Wise, kitchen manager and head chef, can be seen through the food pick-up window, patrolling the kitchen that he knows so well. Wise is a mature presence in an otherwise youthful kitchen, ably staffed by Ed Stoudmire, Dave Jones and Jen Turrick.

“I try to bring out the best in everyone who works here, and I try to set a good example for young people and motivate them because many of them are in transition,” said Wise. “Some of them move on to other careers and others never get it out of their system.”

The Colony has been around for most of the last century and, in recent years, has expanded north, down Lee Road to include four storefronts, a party room and large patio with an indoor/outdoor bar. A hospitable, family-oriented atmosphere is perhaps what The Colony is best known for.

“It’s like a big family here. Relationships are born here; people become engaged here. It’s just the kind of place where families come together,” Brennan said.

“We love kids and we really like families. They are the core of any institution,” added Wise, whose career began in a restaurant in The Park, now known as Reserve Square, in downtown Cleveland.

Wise is known to allow outsiders into the kitchen to try their hand at whipping up a favorite family recipe. Mary Ellen Waithe, professor at Cleveland State University, cooked up pulao, a South Asian rice dish; and Judge Joe Russo once prepared his version of pizzaiola, a traditional Neapolitan dish that features beef tenderloin cooked with peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. That one even made it onto the menu for a limited time.

Brennan said the best day The Colony ever had was when the restaurant held a fundraiser for Seamus O'Connor, a teenager suffering from brain cancer. On a beautiful Saturday in October 2007, more than $10,000 was raised for the boy’s medical care and expenses.

“It was a selfless day, a great day for The Colony,” said Brennan.”Everybody felt so good about helping that kid."

Having served thousands of meals, and sponsored too many softball teams over the years, Brennan has thoroughly enjoyed his tenure as owner.

 “I feel like it’s just my turn at the wheel. I’ve had a good run. We have memories to last a lifetime. It’s just amazing the memories that come after 20 plus years owning a place” he said.

Richard Stewart

Richard Stewart is a FutureHeights board member and owner of Digizoom Media.

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Volume 5, Issue 7, Posted 3:32 PM, 07.05.2012