Katz Club Diner is set to open this spring
Why would an exceedingly busy man like Doug Katz take on yet another huge project—transforming a vacant restaurant on Lee Road into old-time diner and bar cars of the 1940s. His plate already seems to be overflowing.
Katz, owner/chef of fire food & drink in Shaker Square and chef/partner of the recently opened Provenance restaurant and café in the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), responded with three cogent reasons. First is his passion for cooking good food and sharing it with others. Second, his catering business, which currently operates out of fire’s back kitchen, has outgrown its space. Third, he is motivated to do something for his staff and for the community in which he and his family live.
Katz has been cooking since he was a child, when he hard-boiled his first egg at age five. He is a friendly and genial host who enjoys being part of his guests’ dining experience—greeting them and chatting about the food they’ve ordered.
With a fondness for classic diners from the mid-20th century, Katz had been admiring the Lee Road diner cars for some time. He was inspired, he said, because “the building had soul,” adding that he “wanted to create a business that will bring spark to the neighborhood.” And it’s his neighborhood, too. A resident of Cleveland Heights for more than a decade, he likens his commute from fire to CMA to the diner to the classic kitchen triangle: fridge to sink to stove.
Cleveland Heights City Council endorsed Katz’s plans for the diner, voting unanimously at its Nov. 7 meeting to approve a loan under the city’s Economic Development Loan Fund Program. The $200,000 loan has a three-percent interest rate, with a seven-year repayment schedule after one year’s deferral. Terms of the loan allow for up to $50,000 being forgiven, based on city income taxes generated by the business from 2014–18.
Already familiar with the diner’s super-large kitchen, Katz knew it would be ideal for his growing catering business. After the renovations are completed, Katz will have two kitchens—one for the restaurant and one to accommodate both on-site and off-site parties.
The currently semi-finished basement will become office space for meetings with staff and prospective catering customers. Katz will be able to show various set-ups for private parties and other gatherings. The basement will also serve as a reference library comprising mostly cookbooks.
Many of the staff at fire have been with Katz since he opened the restaurant more than 11 years ago. With only a few spots at the top—chef de cuisine and sous chef—advancement in the restaurant business is difficult. As a way to reward his employees for their competence, experience and loyalty, Katz will be able to promote current staffers into higher positions at the new diner. He plans to employ 28 people for the two-plus shifts that will keep the place open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Katz, who has developed strong relationships with local farmers, will continue that trend in the new Katz Club Diner. Jay Szabo, who runs the farm at Dunham Tavern and provides fresh vegetables during the growing season, will be updating the landscape around the diner cars.
As “creative dreamer and conceptualizer,” Katz will decide the menu, which is likely to include burgers, tuna melts, BLTs and other diner favorites. A coffee and dessert bar will feature cookies, donuts, puddings, cheesecake and slices of birthday cake. Katz has put out a call for family dessert recipes and the stories that go with them. He plans to highlight one each month.
With Katz’s enthusiasm and track record, not to mention his energy and creativity, Katz Club Diner is sure to succeed as well. With plans to open in the spring, he already has one party booked!
Jewel Moulthrop is a Cleveland Heights resident, a member of the FutureHeights Board of Directors, and chair of the Heights Observer's Editorial Advisory Committee.