Longtime family restaurateurs open Joey's on Lee Road

Michael (left) and Will Leonetti, owners of Joey's Bistro Bar Italiano.

Will Leonetti and his brother, Michael Leonetti, are the owners of Joey’s Bistro Bar Italiano, the new restaurant located at 2195 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights’s Cedar Lee Business District. The two brothers also own Joey’s Restaurant in Solon, and they formerly owned Joey’s Restaurant in Chagrin Falls, which burned down in November 2011.

The two brothers come from a family that has a long history in the Cleveland-area food business. “Our family has been in the food and restaurant business for more than 100 years,” Michael said.

“Our great-grandparents originally had fruit and vegetable stands in the West Side Market back in the early 1900s,” Michael explained. “Our great-grandfather was the first person to import bananas in gas chambers so they could ripen while coming from Africa to the U.S., and our grandfather was the first person to bring pizza to Cleveland.”

Their grandfather is Michael Geraci, who opened Geraci’s Restaurant in University Heights back in 1956. That restaurant is still owned by the Leonettis’ mother and her two sisters. Their father, Joe Leonetti, also ran several restaurants, including Joey’s in Chagrin Falls, the Gathering in Bainbridge and Leonetti’s by the Falls.

The Leonetti brothers grew up in Bainbridge and attended Kenston High School. Michael, who’s now 36 and lives in Chagrin Falls, attended The Ohio State University, where he majored in hospitality management. Will, who’s 34 years old and lives in Chesterland, had planned to attend Ohio State. Instead, in 1997, he and his brother took over the business when their father decided to turn his restaurants over to his sons.

The new Joey’s is slightly different from the Joey’s in Solon and the one that was in Chagrin Falls.

“The restaurant business is changing,” Michael said. “The trend is no longer families going out for a meal, but it’s now more people going out by themselves, or couples going out on a date, or people going out with one or two friends. So we wanted to create a place where someone can sit down at the bar, have some good food and a drink, and get out of here for $20.”

Because of that, the restaurant’s focus is on large appetizers, such as the Eggplant Napoleon, which consists of breaded eggplant, ricotta, spinach, pesto and balsamic glaze. Another house specialty is the Black and Blue Risotto Fritters, made with bacon, blue cheese, hot peppers and breaded risotto. Like almost all of the appetizers and salads on the menu, those items are priced under $10.

Other house specialties are the pizza and the pasta. The pasta dishes include Pasta Puttanesca and Chicken Florentine. Joey’s offers several daily specials, including various seafood and meat dishes, and all of the items on the menu are available gluten-free.

“The whole idea is to keep the prices on the menu low,” said Michael, who currently serves as the restaurant’s chef, while his brother runs the front of the house.

The Leonettis spent about 11 months remodeling and rebuilding the space, which was previously occupied by Jimmy O’Neill’s Tavern. “We completely rebuilt and redesigned the place,” Will said. “We put in all new electrical and all new plumbing. It was a complete build-out.”

In addition to serving food, the Leonettis are starting to feature live music in the restaurant one night a week. They also plan to host wine tastings and book signings.

“One of the reasons we chose to open a restaurant in Cleveland Heights was because we wanted to be in a more urban location,” Michael said. “We were attracted to the idea of being in a high-traffic urban area. But Cleveland Heights also has great neighborhoods, and we really want to serve the people who live around here. We want this to be a gathering place for them.”

Joey's Bistro Bar Italiano
2195 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights

Mon. through Thurs. 4–10 p.m.
Fri. 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sat. 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sun. 1–10 p.m.

James Henke

James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 10:32 AM, 12.03.2013