PREVIEW: three new Flats tenants will unite in bocce, beer, bourbon and … pizza

Construction is underway at the former Crop complex on Old River Road in the Flats East Bank, and three new tenants will occupy the space before summer’s end, according to Flats developer, Scott Wolstein.
Dante’s Inferno, Backyard Bocce and Thirsty Dog Brewing Company will move into the three former Crop spaces by mid-August, bringing a cooperative effort into a varied mix of food, drink and entertainment to the Flats. Construction began last week.
“These new tenants further expand and diversify the food, beverage and entertainment offering of the Flats East Bank,” says Wolstein, managing partner of The Wolstein Group. “They each bring highly accomplished successful new operators to the project who have solid track records of proven success.”
Dante Boccuzzi, who also owns restaurants in Tremont, debuted Dante’s Inferno at Progressive Field last year and saw the concept take off.
“The whole idea was born with Progressive Field,” Boccuzzi says. “I was trying to get in there and I presented all different types of food. They came back and said ‘can you do pizza?’”
Boccuzzi took the challenge, came up with some recipes and developed pizza varieties such as the popular Spaghetti and Meatball pizza — “Grandma’s Sunday supper on a pizza.” With the success at the ballpark, Boccuzzi saw the possibilities in the Flats.
“We have 10 to 12 people who don’t have culinary experience turn out 600 to 700 pizzas at a game,” explains Boccuzzi. “So we’re following the same format. The Flats is the first expansion of the concept.”
Boccuzzi is expanding the menu a bit — offering baked pasta dishes from the two pizza ovens — and will partner with neighboring Thirsty Dog to offer up Heaven and Helios beer, a “lighter drinking beer that goes well with pizza,” in the 3,000-square-foot restaurant.
“We’ve been eating a lot of pizza and taking a lot of notes,” he quips, citing a goat cheese with truffle honey and pistachios as one standout he’s working on.
Boccuzzi already has a logo designed for Heaven and Helios — angels on a cloud and a devil with a pitchfork.
Furthermore, Boccuzzi has plans for a walk-up takeout window and will offer delivery to the Flats area. “I like the location because it’s right at the end and it’s right next to the valet so it’s visible,” he says.
Meanwhile, in Thirsty Dog’s 12,000-square-foot space complete with a 2,000-square-foot patio that seats 200, co-owner John Najeway is busing working on the seven-barrel brew house plans and the expansion to Cleveland from the Akron flagship brewery.
“It’s fun and exciting to have another outlet and to make new stuff up here,” Najeway says. “We have our core line of beers that we produce, and we’ll have brews we are working on.”
Najeway plans for a gastropub format and says he thinks the Flats is a perfect fit for Thirsty Dog. “Cleveland has always been a great beer market, and we’ve always had a big following up there,” he says. “It’s natural to do it up in Cleveland, with all the stuff going on down in the Flats.”
Najeway says he looks forward to meeting his Cleveland following. “Having that one-on-one contact with the end-customer, and working with all of our brewery neighbors, we look forward to serving tasty beer and tasty food,” he says.
And while Thirsty Dog is working with Dante’s Inferno on a signature beer, Boccuzzi will offer his menu to Backyard Bocce patrons. That partnership works well with Backyard Bocce director of operations George Fox’s vision.
“Our hope is to be a great place and complement those who come down to the East Bank,” says Fox. “Have dinner and play some bocce and enjoy everything the Flats affords.”
Fox, who has 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry and has played bocce since he was kid, says Backyard Bocce is a perfect fit in Cleveland. “It’s always part of social and family gatherings,” he says of his experience with the game. “It’s a very relaxing and fun game that everyone can play.”
The approximately 3,000-square-foot facility will have two indoor bocce courts and one outdoor court, as well as arcade games and Skee-ball. While bocce is usually associated with older people, the game is growing in popularity among all age groups, Fox says.
“It seem to be very trendy right now,” not only with the older generation but with the younger generation too,” he says.
The outdoor bocce court will be flanked by two fire pits and casual lounge seating. Inside, murals by local artists will adorn the walls and plenty of natural light will flow in through large windows and glass garage doors that will remain open in the summertime.
“There’s an open-air feel to it and you’ll feel like you’re outdoors,” Fox promises. “Outside, you’ll have the whole back yard in summer and still have the Flats experience.”
A full bar will focus on “a nice bourbon selection,” says Fox, and local beers. “And Thirsty Dog is right next door.” While he is still working on a limited menu, Dante’s Inferno fare will be a part of it.
All three owners and operators agree that the new establishments will only elevate to the new look of the Flats East Bank. “This is something for a growing neighborhood, with all the people living down here and all the activity,” says Fox. “In years past, it was bars and food. Now it’s seen more as a destination.”
Boccuzzi, who worked at both the former Jillian’s and Club Coconuts in the Flats while in high school, says he’s happy to be a part of the renaissance.
“I’ve always enjoyed it,” he says of the area. “It’s great to be a part of these exciting times here in Cleveland. It’s the right kind of crowd and it looks nice.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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