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National restaurant mogul on why he chose the 216

Robert Thompson CEO of Seasoned Development overlooking construction of Punch Bowl Social in the Flats East Bank

Construction of Punch Bowl Social part of the Flats at East Bank project

Rendering of the front entrance of Punch Bowl Social

Interior construction shot of Punch Bowl Social

Interior construction shot of Punch Bowl Social

Interior construction shot of Punch Bowl Social

Construction shot of the street in front of Punch Bowl Social

Construction shot of the street in front of Punch Bowl Social

Interior rendering of Punch Bowl Social

Interior rendering of Punch Bowl Social

Exterior rendering of Punch Bowl Social

Robert Thompson knows a thing or two about restaurants. Since 1997, he's overseen the opening of a baker's dozen at points across the nation. His efforts have garnered no less than four awards over the years.

Thompson's latest incarnation is president and CEO of Seasoned Development, which has four Punch Bowl Socials (Denver, Portland, Austin and Detroit), and three more planned for 2015, including one in Cleveland.
 
"Clevelanders should be aware that they're on the national radar," says the low-key mogul. "In the last nine months, other developers started reaching out to us. That's a good sign for you guys."
 
They were out of luck. Thompson had already signed on for space in the Flats at East Bank project, which was a decision he didn't make lightly.
 
Due diligence is mostly a by-the-numbers business, but sometimes you have to listen to your instincts. Still unsure on the Cleveland gamble, Thompson made a final research trip to Cleveland—and visited every entertainment district in town. 
 
"Every single entertainment district I went to in town was happening," says Thompson. "To me, that said: Cleveland is back. It's vibrant. There's commercial success happening everywhere." And the answer to his internal question: would a new entertainment district be busy? bloomed: "Why wouldn't it be? Everywhere else is busy."
 
Hence, Thompson's fifth Punch Bowl Social will be occupying 27,000 square feet in the Flats East Bank project. The club will feature a main floor, balcony and 4,000-square-foot rooftop deck. The old-school gaming, craft cocktail and gastro-diner will count Zack Bruell's Alley Cat, Coastal Taco, Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill, The Big Bang, Beerhead, Flip Side and three concept restaurants from Chef Steve Schimoler among its neighbors.
 
"We love it," says Thompson of his competition. "We love gravity. Mass equals gravity and gravity equals attraction. We don't like pioneering. We like having friends near us that have their own special offerings and help create a district. We don't want to ask Clevelanders to come down here just to come to Punch Bowl."
 
But if they're hankering for the vodka concoction "You must bring us … A shrubbery" (an ode to Monty Python), or a Malted Maple Royal milkshake (featuring Crown Royal Maple), they'll have to swing through Punch Bowl. No worries, though. There should be plenty of room and folks to scare up those potent potables: the club will have a capacity of nearly 1,000 and 175 employees working the space.
 
"It takes a lot of bodies to cover 27,000-square-feet," notes Thompson. The grand opening is scheduled for August 8th with a soft opening in mid-July.
 
The eight-story building will also house 241 apartments, which are currently leasing with a scheduled July 1st occupancy. Units include one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans ranging from 720- to 1,700-square-feet, with rents from $1,565 to $3,920.
 
"We look for up-and-coming markets," says Thompson of the diverse venture. "We're not in the business of fighting with sharp elbows with everybody in New York City or Los Angeles. We look for emerging markets or, in this case, reemerging markets. So Cleveland was on the radar in that sense."
 
But as any old-time Clevelander can attest, the Flats is a singular place, full up with history and a not-so-immaculate reputation, none of which is lost on Thompson.
 
"That's something special that resonates for us: being part of the resurrection of an historic entertainment district like this."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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