Best of the Heights 2020

Tommy Fello, owner of Tommy's restaurant, Winner of Best Heights Vibe.

Over a period of six weeks, Jan. 1 through Feb. 15, Heights residents cast their votes in the annual Best of the Heights awards, in recognition of the businesses that serve Cleveland Heights and University Heights. As in prior years, FutureHeights, a nonprofit community development corporation and publisher of the Heights Observer, created a list of unique award categories, showcasing the wide variety of establishments that call the Heights home, and asked residents to vote by writing in the names of their favorites in each category.

“While we celebrate these 2020 awardees,” said Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of FutureHeights, “we also acknowledge how much has changed for all of them—and for all of us—since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. For example, Foodhisattva, a vegan, Asian-fusion cafe, was this year’s winner of Best New Restaurant or Bar. Now, only eight months into a successful first year, it has been forced to temporarily close to eat-in dining.”

Joshua Sias, who owns Foodhisattva with his wife, Frances Cheng, said that the couple poured their personal savings into bringing their restaurant dreams to life, and he is grateful that neighbors have embraced the unconventional cuisine they offer. After building a dedicated following over years of pop-ups and other events, Foodhisattva chose to open its storefront in the Cedar Taylor Business District. “We live right around the corner, because we want to be here,” said Sias.

“Under the current public gathering restrictions,” said Fisher, “it’s great to remember that Foodhisattva was the winner of one other category—Best Takeout. People who want to continue supporting this, and other Heights restaurants, are encouraged to continue ordering food for carryout and delivery.” [Update: As of March 24, Foodhisattva is no longer open for takeout.]

Pacific East, in the Coventry Village Business District, and Aladdin’s, in the Cedar Fairmount Business District, were finalists in the Best Takeout category. “We are staying open to serve the public as long as we can,” said Dany Aoun, manager of Aladdin’s, “Many people have said that they wouldn’t know what to do if we closed. They don’t cook at home.”  

Many restaurants that are better known as eat-in destinations are finding creative new ways to serve their customers in the new environment. Before Ohio restaurants and bars were ordered to close by Gov. DeWine, Zhug, located in the Cedar Fairmount Business District, had removed several tables from the dining room to accommodate “social distancing.” “We want to stay open, for our community, for our employees,” said Todd Thompson, Zhug’s director of operations. The restaurant, a finalist for Best New Restaurant or Bar, can take orders online and by phone, and rumor has it that owner Doug Katz himself is helping deliver them to customers.  

Many other restaurants are making similar adjustments. Just a block from Zhug is The Fairmount, winner of Best Outdoor Dining. Owner Jake Oroz said he has now made the full menu available to-go.

Rising Star Coffee, winner of the Best New Business (other) category, had to temporarily close down its Market Hall location in Shaker Heights, but its other four locations remain open for carryout and delivery, including the one in the Cedar Lee Business District. It has modified its hours and is currently open Monday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Thursday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.⠀

Boss Dog Brewery, a finalist in the Best Outdoor Dining category, is following suit in the Cedar Lee Business District. As a brewery, it is also able to sell carry-out beer directly from its brick-and-mortar store. Just down the street, Stone Oven Bakery Cafe, a finalist for Best Eco-conscious Business, is making good use of its new compostable takeout boxes as takeout business remains brisk.  

One Heights dining staple, Tommy’s restaurant in Coventry Village, is taking some time off to plan for the future. Heights residents must temporarily endure their Tommy’s milkshake cravings as this favorite gathering place, and winner of Best Heights Vibe, decided to temporarily close to protect the health and safety of its employees and patrons.

Those considerations were top of mind when owners Dawn and Alex Quintana decided to temporarily close Quintana’s Barber & Dream Spa in the Cedar Taylor Business District. Quintana’s was one of three winners of Best Community-Conscious Business and winner of Best Cleveland Heights Business. “We’ve been praying and are trying to be forthcoming with staff,” said Alex.

Heights residents who wish to support temporarily closed businesses can purchase gifts cards for future meals, haircuts, and other products and services online. “We encourage Heights residents to patronize our Best of the Heights winners and finalists—and all of our locally owned businesses—as much as they can during these difficult times,” said Fisher.

The other two winners of Best Community-Conscious Business were The Wine Spot and CLE Urban Winery, both in the Cedar Lee Business District. “This is the first time that I can remember that we’ve ever had a three-way tie for a category,” said Fisher. “But I can see why Heights residents had such a hard time choosing just one winner—all of these businesses are so generous in donating to community causes and supporting local events. We are so grateful to have them in our community.”

While CLE Urban Winery and The Wine Spot are known for the community events they sponsor, they both temporarily moved to retail only. With the governor’s stay-at-home order, which took effect March 24, CLE Urban Winery closed its tasting room; it remains open to accept online orders for delivery. The Wine Spot, likewise, has closed its store to the public, but continues to fill phone and e-mail orders via curbside pickup and delivery. 

Destiny Burns, owner of CLE Urban Winery, deeply cares about the social engagement her business is known for. “We try to position ourselves as a community center that also makes wine,” she said. “It is the very same measures being taken to protect people during this crisis that are unfortunately forcing people to face it all in isolation, without the ability to come together for comfort and support.”

The Cedar Lee Theatre, voted Best Place to Visit During a Snow Storm, was forced to temporarily close. “When people have been buying homes, they’ve chosen to live in walking distance of the theater,” said Cedar Lee Theatre owner Jonathan Forman. “The haven of the theater is so important that people move into the neighborhood with the intention of having it be a consistent part of their lives.” Forman encourages patrons to buy gift certificates in anticipation of the time when people can gather again.

Heights Libraries, a finalist in the “Snow Storm” category,has temporarily closed its four branches. Patrons are still able to access e-media online, and the library is assisting with food bank distribution and emergency blood drives.

The state order to close all gyms and wellness centers during the crisis has meant the temporary closure of the winner and finalist in the Best Place to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution category: Yoga Roots, winner, in the Fairmount Taylor Business District; and Atma Center, finalist, in the Cedar Lee Business District. Scott Curtis, owner of Yoga Roots, had hoped to avoid this outcome. “There was an outcry from students for us to stay open,” he said. Atma Center has adapted by offering its classes through a virtual platform, so that people can participate from their homes.

Also creatively adapting to the current crisis is Cedar Fairmount’s Appletree Books, winner of Best Beautiful Storefront. Before DeWine ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, the bookstore was offering free delivery in Cleveland Heights so that people could continue ordering books online and over the phone. With the new state order, the bookstore has temporarily closed, at least until April 6 (the current end date of the stay-at-home order). On its Facebook page, the store announced, “Appletree is now part of! An easy and convenient way to buy books online and have them delivered directly to you. Just go to our storefront to see suggestions and to order. All sales benefit Appletree!”

In the Mayfield Lee Business District, Best Beautiful Storefront finalist Stems Fleur also has had to close, at least until April 6. On Facebook, owner Scott Robertson said, “Thank you all for your amazing support and we'll be back to delivering joyful flowers very soon!” Stems Fleur was also a finalist in the Best Cleveland Heights Business and Best New Business (other) categories.

Zagara’s Marketplace, finalist for Best Cleveland Heights business, continues its dedication to serving the community. Its Facebook page said, “We are committed to providing our customers with a safe shopping experience. With this in mind, please check out our PrestoFresh grocery delivery service at You can order and receive your groceries without leaving your home.”

Zagara’s remains open to the public. Owner John Zagara has been working long hours to ensure that customers are served, and employees have been staying late to clean the store and restock shelves.

The winner of Best University Heights Business, Lox, Stock & Brisket, is doing brisk takeout business. Known for its breakfast and lunch options, owner Anthony Zappola has extended its hours, remaining open until 7 p.m.

Geraci’s Restaurant, a finalist in that category, has continued offering takeout service but is asking that all customers phone ahead so that meals can be delivered directly to patrons’ cars. In addition, Geraci’s has created a pizza-match program. Patrons can call the restaurant and ask to order a “donation pizza,” or go to “online ordering” at Geraci’s will then deliver a pizza to a local hospital. As of March 23, the restaurant had donated 20 pizzas.

Best Heights Vibe finalist Heights United Soccer Academy started as a small soccer camp 25 years ago, and has evolved into a communitywide outreach program that has provided soccer scholarships for more than 1,000 Heights children. “Our programs strongly reflect the diversity of our great city and our style is uniquely Cleveland Heights,” said owner Sean Sullivan. “I can promise you that we are unlike any sports program you have witnessed, especially when we do our foot skills to music. It is an amazing sight to see 100-plus kids and their soccer balls in the center of the field all moving as one to the carefully selected beats, with their families and friends cheering them on.” 

The 2020 Best of the Heights winners and finalists are:

Best New Restaurant or Bar
Winner: Foodhisaatva
Finalist: Zhug

Best New Business (other)
Winner: Rising Star Coffee
Finalist: Stems Fleur

Best Business to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution
Winner: Yoga Roots
Finalist: Atma Center

Best Place to Go in a Snow Storm
Winner: Cedar Lee Theatre
Finalist: Heights Libraries

Best Outdoor Dining
Winner: The Fairmount
Finalist: Boss Dog Brewing Co.

Best Takeout
Winner: Foodhisattva
Finalists: Aladdin's, Pacific East

Best Eco-Conscious Business
Winner: Fairmount Cleaners
Finalist: Stone Oven

Best Community-Conscious Business
Winners: CLE Urban Winery, Quintana’s Barber & Dream Spa, The Wine Spot

Best Beautiful Storefront
Winner: Appletree Books
Finalist: Stems Fleur

Best Cleveland Heights Business
Winner: Quintana's Barber & Dream Spa
Finalists: Zagara’s Marketplace, Stems Fleur

Best University Heights Business
Winner: Lox Stock & Brisket
Finalist: Geraci's Restaurant

Best Heights Vibe
Winner: Tommy's
Finalist: Heights United Soccer Academy

Hannah Morgan

Hannah Morgan serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA to FutureHeights.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 11:14 AM, 03.24.2020