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Young entrepreneur's healthy, eco-friendly snacks fuel customers ó and her growing biz

Emily Yoder believes healthy eating can create positive change in the world,

The young entrepreneur is nurturing that concept via Earth Energy Sustainable Treats, a new startup that creates all-natural "power snacks" for an on-the-go customer base.  
 
Yoder, 20, makes vegan and gluten-free snacks using locally sourced ingredients that are packaged in eco-friendly materials. Her energy bites, for example, are handmade with peanut butter, chocolate, oats, and flax seed, with a hint of organic maple syrup collected from Goodell Family Farm in Mantua. She also sells a protein-rich "power bar" and a hearty cookie treat.
 
"There's no point in being an entrepreneur unless you're trying to change something for the better," says Yoder, a Kent State University senior.
 
Yoder, of Canton, launched her "traveling bakery" last summer at various Cleveland farmer's markets. She's now gained enough of a following that she's expanding her product line this year to include a trail mix and an apple-cinnamon version of the power bar.
 
"I have lots of awesome fans in Cleveland," Yoder says. "There's a market for this because it's satisfying something people haven't seen before."
 
She started her business to fill what she recognized as a gap in the healthy snack market. Even ostensibly nourishing treats like Clif bars have high calorie and sugar content, while soy free and vegan options are limited.

Yoder's business model has not just impressed her customers. In January, she won the Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards (GSEA) pitch competition, which held its regional round on KSU's campus. Yoder takes her healthful ideas to Kansas City this week for nationals, competing against 25 fellow students  for a spot at the GSEA Global Finals in Frankfurt, Germany. 
 
Meanwhile, she continues to grow her one-woman business, although she's not alone in the undertaking. Adam Fleischer, owner of The Wine Spot, mentored her during the pitch competition, while her parents have supported her throughout the process.
 
Looking ahead, Yoder is excited for the upcoming summer market season. She also aims to hire her first employees and procure space at Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen (CCLK) in 2017. Whatever transpires, Yoder will continue to concoct nutritious treats that promote a healthy lifestyle.  
 
"The true nature of entrepreneurship is to innovate and make things better," she says.  

Locally made Backattack Snacks pack a protein punch, spell success for founders

Snacking is fun, as long as you don't read the ingredients on the back of the package, says Brian Back, owner of Backattack Snacks, a Westlake-based seller of naturally made beefy jerky and almonds.
 
An average pack of "gas station jerky," for example, is loaded with preservatives and strange chemicals that begin with "poly." Backattack's Ohio-raised Angus beef jerky, made by the proprietor on site at Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen (CCLK), has only nine ingredients, all of which can be pronounced by his nine-year-old daughter, Graci. Back's email signature says, "You should never need a PhD in chemistry to understand what you are eating," a thought he reiterated during a recent interview with Fresh Water Cleveland.
 
"Our jerky is made of meat and spices," says Back. "That's it."
 
Back and wife Lauren also sell five varieties of roasted almonds in flavors including wasabi ginger and pumpkin spice. The couple's Chocolate Firecracker brand continues the business's all-natural trend, containing cayenne pepper, Himalaya sea salt, organic raw cacao, and honey sourced from area apiaries.
 
Back's jerky isn't in stores but can be purchased online, at local farmer's markets or at the Merchant's Mrkt collaborative retail storefront in Legacy Village. His almonds can be found at Heinen's, Mustard Seed Market and various mom-and-pop shops throughout the region. Since launching Backattack Snacks in 2015, the owners have expanded their reach into six states outside Ohio.
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"The goal for this year is to get our almonds into bigger stores," says Back. "We also want to be a vendor at Progressive Field."
 
The story behind the snacks started when the Backs' passion for cooking and fitness led them to experiment with healthy nibbles for athletes. They made beef jerky for family and friends, then used their jerky marinade to roast almonds.
 
In kicking off their snack business, the first-time owners enlisted the aid of fellow Cleveland food entrepreneurs, who mentored them in the ways of pricing, labor and product placement. Local food service veterans Tim Skaryd and his father, William, gave the Backs invaluable advice on packaging and other manufacturing minutiae.
 
"You always have to keep learning," Back says.
 
Handmade snacking goodness does not come cheap. A quarter-pound of jerky goes for $13, while a half-pound of Chocolate Firecracker costs $9, but the price tags have a conscious. A portion of sales helps fund the Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute's research of arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplaysia (ARVD), a rare heart condition that is a leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.
 
Meanwhile, the young entrepreneurs will keep providing high-quality almonds and chewy beef to health-conscious consumers.
 
"We're meeting some big players in the space and seeing them enjoying our product as much as everyone else is," says Back. "The coolest thing is seeing our work come to where it has."

Old Brooklyn business competition winners aim for steady growth and progress

It's been more than a year since the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) held a unique business plan contest that worked one-on-one with participants to determine how their ideas fit into the neighborhood.
 
The three winners of the 2015 Business Competition - Cleveland Jam, Connie’s Affogato and JAC Creative - have grown since being selected from a pool of 10 finalists. While not all developing at the same pace, these ventures are finding their entrepreneurial footing through new storefronts and other upgrades, says Rosemary Mudry, OBCDC's director of economic development.
 
"Each of these businesses has taken a different path," says Mudry. "Our role is helping them wherever they are in the process."
 
During the competition, finalists received Small Enterprise Education Development (SEED) training from the Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI) and met with OBCDC staff to discuss possible locations for their enterprises. Mudry helped them hash out their pitches over a period of several months, an education now paying benefits as entrepreneurs settle into the community.
 
Before the contest, Cleveland Jam was displaying its jams made from locally sourced beer and wines at trade shows, online and at Great Lakes Brewing Company's gift shop. Today, the business is refurbishing a retail space attached to a greenhouse, which also has an outdoor garden where they can grow the fruits and vegetables used to concoct their tasty products.
 
Located at West 11th Street and Schaaf Road, the business's retail portion is 750 square feet. Owner Jim Conti is readying his new digs for a November 19 opening.
 
"They have a website, and still have a partnership with Great Lakes Brewing Company," Mudry says. "It's a great time for them to expand their brand while securing a space."
 
Meanwhile, JAC Creative, a design and marketing firm founded by Gabriel Johnson, Andrew Sobotka, and Mike Caparanis in 2012, used funding from the competition to lease office space and are now considering expansion, reports Mudry.
 
The business contest's third winner, Connie’s Affogato, sells a concoction of espresso and locally-made ice cream via bicycle. The mobile storefront - a mindchild of Jason Minter - is currently acquiring permitting with help from OBCDC.
 
The manner in which all three concepts have progressed is illustrative of the development corporation's core mission of creating jobs and filling vacant spaces. Mudry is already looking ahead to Old Brooklyn residents enjoying the fruits of a year's worth of hard work.
 
"The ultimate success is having these businesses open and operating," she says. "This is a place where entrepreneurs are supported, and there's a network of like-minded entrepreneurs here working to better the community." 

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Ugly fruits and vegetables spawn beautiful program

Getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables to eat can be a hit or miss prospect in Cleveland's “food deserts” where full service grocery stores are hard to come by. At the same time, an astounding amount of produce and other food in the United States – more than 30 million tons a year – ends up in landfills.
 
A fourth-generation fruit-and-vegetable wholesaler in Cleveland is taking on those incongruities with a program designed to assist low-income families while tackling food waste.
 
Forest City Weingart Produce Co. has begun selling, at cost, fruits and vegetables that come through its warehouse every week that are totally healthy but cosmetically flawed – an eggplant with a scar, a dimpled orange, the oddly shaped tomato. The "Perfectly Imperfect" endeavor is a unique effort by which the wholesaler is packaging imperfect produce for purchase on a small scale for individuals, says Ashley Weingart, the company’s director of communications and community outreach.
 
It’s also part of a growing push across the country to save misshapen yet completely edible food from the dump. Writer Jordan Figueiredo has a social media campaign to promote the ugly produce movement on Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg, and on Facebook.
 
“We see an opportunity to reduce food waste and help get more fruits and vegetables to the population that can’t afford them,” says Weingart as she assembles boxes of imperfect cantaloupes, green peppers, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lemons and mangos.
 
Perfectly Imperfect sells the produce medleys every Friday. A 15-pound mixture goes for $15 or get 30 pounds for $25 at 4000 Orange Ave in Cleveland (call ahead to order at 216-881-3232). Shoppers also can sign up to have boxes delivered to their homes ($7.50 within the city, $10 elsewhere in the county and $15 for surrounding counties). The program is open to all.
 
Ashley’s husband Andy Weingart, whose great-grandfather founded the company in 1900, says the wholesaler used to throw out blemished produce that grocery stores didn’t want because they have trouble selling it to picky shoppers.
 
The company donates 100,000 pounds of imperfect produce to the Cleveland Area Food Bank every year and will continue doing so. But there is even more on hand, which led Ashley Weingart to hatch the idea for Perfectly Imperfect after joining the family business.
 
Weingart says she was struck by the contrast between the bounty of fruits and vegetables arriving every day at the Northern Ohio Food Terminal, the amount the company was discarding because of superficial flaws, and the need for nutritious food in surrounding neighborhoods - which includes some of the poorest zip codes in Ohio.

“It seems ridiculous. I can’t think of a better word at the moment,” she says. “There’s no reason why 40 million Americans should be food insecure, and that we should have 40 percent of the food in this country being wasted.”
 
Weingart and her husband practice what they preach when it comes to eating nourishing food, and are bringing up their three young children the same way.
 
“Our kids are adventurous eaters,” Weingart says. “I refuse to cut the crusts off their bread.”
 
Brimming with ideas for healthy eating at affordable prices while reducing food waste, she has initiated a number of other street level efforts including:
 
- a partnership with the city’s Healthy Cleveland program to get more fruits and vegetables to residents by offering Perfectly Imperfect produce at community centers.
 
- a supply connection with corner stores around Cleveland that want to carry healthier foods, in collaboration with the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Case Western Reserve University. “A lot of (corner stores) are going to grocery stores and buying produce and reselling it. They’re not making any money on it,” she says.
 
- outreach to University Hospitals about setting up an information table in the lobby of the main hospital, and perhaps at satellite clinics, to get out word on the ugly produce option.
 
- the "Seed to Spoon" program, in which she vists schools to educate children about the long journey their food takes to get to the table and why it’s important not to waste it.
 
- becoming a supplier of fruits and vegetables to FarmRaiser, an alternative to candy and cookies for student fund drives. City Ballet of Cleveland was the first customer.

“We want to bridge the gap between all the food waste that exists in our country and to help the community around us,” says Weingart. “We feel like we have the obligation and the opportunity to help.”
 

Bakery with Latin flair set to open in Brooklyn Centre

"If you don't try anything, you never know what will happen."
 
Such is the mindset of Lyz Otero, owner of Half Moon Bakery, a soon-to-be-opened seller of traditional Latin pastries and empanadas. Otero took the leap with a little help from the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), an organization that in August announced more than $530,000 in loans to 21 Cleveland-area businesses.
 
Nineteen of those loans were to new minority- or women-owned ventures, with Puerto Rico native Otero receiving $50,000 for equipment and improvements to her 1,200 square-foot space at 3800 Pearl Rd. Otero and husband Gerson Velasquez are using the funding to pay contractors and architects, as well as buy stove hoods and other gear. ECDI also provided the couple with financial management and computer classes.
 
Otero is aiming for an early November launch for a bakery offering a dozen types of empanadas. The new entrepreneur looks forward to stuffing the half-moon shaped pastry turnovers with endless combinations of meat, vegetables and fruit.
 
"It will almost be like a pizzeria, but with empanadas," says Otero. "Everything you put on a pizza can go on an empanada."
 
Vegan and gluten-free empanadas will be on the menu, joining Latin cuisine like rice and tamales. Fresh bread, cupcakes and other delectable confections round out the selection. Otero will create the bakery's pastry products, with her husband serving as chef. During the next month, she expects to hire on two cashiers and an additional cook.
 
While the smaller space will focus on take-out orders, patrons can eat inside on stools along the window. Outdoor seating, meanwhile, is a possibility for warm-weather months.
 
Opening the business has been both exciting and nerve-wracking. Though no stranger to the restaurant industry - past employers include Zack Bruell and Michael Symon - there's nothing for Otero like working for herself. Friend Wendy Thompson, owner of A Cookie and a Cupcake, encouraged her to start a bakery with a unique Latin flair.
 
"We're focusing on gourmet empanadas, which nobody else around here is doing," says Otero. "You never see a place like this where there's so many different kinds of empanadas."
 
Ultimately, Otero wants to leave a delicious, profitable legacy for her three children, ages 4, 6 and 7.
 
"I've always dreamed to do this," she says. "I had to step up and follow my dreams, because nobody was going to do it for me." 

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Inca Tea is 'Hot' in Cleveland for second consecutive year

For the second year straight, the people of Cleveland have spoken about their favorite local tea establishment. 
 
Inca Tea, located in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, was named the area's "Best Tea House" on the 2016 Cleveland Hot List. This marks the second consecutive year owner Ryan Florio's café  has been selected as a favorite spot to savor a cup of tea or coffee.
 
"It means first and foremost that customers really enjoy what we're doing," says Florio, a Parma-based entrepreneur who founded Inca Tea in 2014. "We're always trying to produce something that will impact people positively."
 
The Cleveland Hot List, which features more than 6,400 businesses competing for the region's love, garnered 59,000 overall votes this year. Inca Tea's standing is emblematic of a fast-growing venture carrying what its owner says is a unique product.
 
The startup's all-natural concoctions are made from anti-oxidant and nutrient-rich purple corn, a recipe Florio discovered on a hiking trip in Peru. Florio's teas are GMO-free, with bio-degradable packaging.
 
Inca Tea also has an all-Cleveland inclination that flows well with its all-natural focus, selling products from area companies like Mitchell's Ice CreamChagrin Falls PopcornBreadsmith and Anna in the Raw. Florio, who is looking to open a production facility in Cleveland, says being a city proponent means keeping the nuts and bolts of his business local.
 
"I believe in the town's revitalization, and like the direction it's going in," he says. "I want to grow my business here and provide jobs. It's a changing landscape that I want to be a part of."
 
Inca Tea distributes its products at 500 stores nationwide, while enjoying a 67 percent revenue increase since 2015. Florio is planning a 350-square-foot full-service storefront at Hopkins's Concourse C, which would offer breakfast and lunch items sourced from local restaurants. Additional plans include franchising the café model and distributing his teas in 5,000 groceries.
 
For now, the busy CEO - or should we say TeaEO? - is happy to be recognized as one of Cleveland's top-tier beverage purveyors.
 
"We'll continue to keep a positive vibe in our products and services," says Florio. "People in Cleveland like to see other Clevelanders succeed. That gives us a buzz and the drive to go forward." 

Making organic dough 'feels good' to Cleveland food entrepreneur

Pizza, calzones, empanadas and pot pies are all delicious, there's no debate to be had on that. However, thanks to the efforts of a Cleveland-area food entrepreneur, those flavorful goodies are now healthier, too.
 
Terry Thomsen, founder of Frickaccio’s Pizza Market in Fairview Park and the West Side Market - where their pizza bagels have been a staple for more than 30 years - launched Feel Good Dough in January. Thomsen's new venture is a line of USDA-certified organic frozen dough balls, which their proprietor says are vegan-friendly and GMO-free. The all-purpose dough, made in a 3,000-square-foot production and retail space in Fairview, can be used for both dinner and dessert recipes.
 
"It's good for pizza, dinner rolls, or anything else that's 100 percent clean without GMOs or pesticides," says Thomsen.
 
Though Thomsen previously trucked in organic artisan breads and dough balls, her latest enterprise is a good option for people with food allergies or difficulty digesting gluten. Feel Good Dough recently partnered with Milwaukee-based Red Star Yeast to utilize the company's 100 percent organic yeast, a move Thomsen says will keep her treats pure.
 
"I insisted on 100 percent organic including the yeast," she says. "This is not a common practice for many manufacturers, which are just 'made with' (organic ingredients) or 90 percent clean. We chose not to be like the rest."
 
Thomsen, a Lakewood resident, exhibited her homemade dough last month at the Fancy Food Show in New York. Upcoming is Expo East in Baltimore, where she will display Feel Good Dough for potential distributors.
 
Consumers can find the frozen dough balls today in 12 states. Locally, Heinen's, Whole Foods, Mustard Seed and other local markets carry the product, with Kroger's and Giant Eagle serving as future potential landing spots.
 
Thomsen initially test-marketed the dough out of her West Side Market location. After getting picked up by Heinen's, she tweaked the recipe to withstand additional heat for grilling and baking. Clean ingredients aren't cheap - Feel Good  Dough's suggested retail price is $5.99 - but healthy eating is worth the price, the business owner says.
 
"It's about being a grandmother and making something for families," Thomsen says. "Knowing people are eating it without stomach issues makes me feel good."

The sweetest startup - with frosting

Susan Manfredonia and her mother, Rita, ran a licensed in-home bakery for 22 years, whipping up a custard frosting that had been in their family for generations. With help from local entrepreneurial resources, Manfredonia now seeks to sell her delectable homemade frosting to a wider audience.
 
As owner of Squeeze n' Easy, Manfredonia runs her food-focused startup out of the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen (CCLK), a pay-as-you-go commercial space and program of nonprofit micro-lender the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI).
 
Manfredonia has worked out of the space for three years, producing an egg- and nut-free custard concoction packaged in a simple-to-use, freezable pastry bag. Aided by two part-time employees and business consultant Frank Cullen, Cleveland's unofficial custard queen also pedals cannolis filled with her homespun artisan goodness.
 
"Our product is so good I want the whole world to try it," says Manfredonia.
 
Squeeze n' Easy frosting, currently available at five Northeast Ohio stores in chocolate, vanilla and almond, can be applied to most any cake, pastry or cookie. According to Manfredonia, her family's recipe surpasses canned or boxed product as well as any sugar-laded buttercream frosting you can shake a fondant rose at.
 
"I changed the recipe to make it all-natural," says Manfredonia. "It's gluten-free, too."
 
The entrepreneur returned to the frosting fold four years ago after taking time off to raise her three children. A Bad Girl Ventures finalist in 2012, Manfredonia joined CCLK a year later, harnessing the food-business incubator's mentorship support along with advice on marketing, product development and regulatory processes. 
 
"The kitchen was a very good place to start because of everyone's input and knowledge," Manfredonia says.
 
The proprietor is currently searching for a manufacturing space with cold-storage capabilities for her cannoli product. Manfredonia also aims to hire a few people to demonstrate her wares at local grocery stores.
 
"Part of our marketing is in-store demos and reaching out to ask the consumer questions," says Cullen, a company investor and friend of Manfredonia's. "We found out that the most important things for our customers are taste, convenience and affordability."
 
Delivering old-fashioned luxury frosting at a fair price is Manfredonia's joy, a feeling she looks forward to bringing to a new generation of gourmands.
 
"I'm so excited about this I want to jump out of my skin," she says. "I've done this for so many years, I just want to share it with everybody." 

To help S&R Bakers stomp out bad frosting, they invite frosting activists to sign their "I want my store to carry Squeeze n’ Easy" petition.

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

 

Heights' own 'breakfast Cheers bar' celebrates 35 years

On July 27, 1981, the Inn on Coventry opened amid the chaos of the Coventry Village Street Fair, offering a simple menu of eggs, breakfast meats and $1 pancakes. After 35 years on the corner of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard in Cleveland Heights, diner owners Debbie Duirk and Mary Haley are still serving "comfort food at comfortable prices," and have no plans on stopping anytime soon.
 
To celebrate, the dine-amic duo will be dishing up tasty grub at 1981 prices during a July 27 "Throwback Wednesday" anniversary event. Hungry attendees can arrive for the free coffee and $1 buttermilk pancakes, and stay for raffle prizes including diner gift certificates and an authentic Coca-Cola bike.
 
"This (anniversary) shows our success and how many great people we've met along the way," says Duirk.
 
The three-generation, family-friendly neighborhood restaurant was initially founded as the "in place to be" by Duirk and her business partner. Haley's mother, Amy, served as the establishment's first chef, helping cement the Inn's iconic status with her banana orange waffles and other scrumptious goodies until she passed away in 1997.
 
While the banana orange waffles are no longer available, the Inn's vast menu has nine different versions of Eggs Benedict as well as a variety of spicy selections including huevos rancheros
 
"We say we're still doing home-style cooking after all these years," Duirk says.
 
In preparation for the anniversary festivities, the Inn will close from July 11 to July 23, using that time to add new carpeting and a fresh coat of paint. When reopened, the diner will look much the same as it did on that July day over three decades ago, Duirk promises.
 
The years in between have seen the Heights' very own "breakfast Cheers bar" fill bellies at a fair price. Not all those days have been easy ones, either. Duirk recalls a fire in the district that closed the Inn for several months in the mid-80s. Then there were the street remodelings in the 90s that made it difficult to attract customers. And of course, the loss of Haley's mother a week before her 97th birthday was a blow to the owners and patrons alike.
 
Despite it all, the Inn has persevered as a Cleveland Heights institution that Duirk looks forward to shepherding along for another 35 years. The diner's success can be ascribed to a few simple yet critically important reasons, its co-owner says. 
 
"Quality, consistency, cleanliness and a hospitable staff that makes you feel like you're home," says Duirk. "That's what people look for when they go out to eat." 

Bloom Bakery raising 'dough' to help others

"Creating jobs is our secret ingredient."
 
Such is the slogan of Bloom Bakery, a downtown entity that offers premium pastries and breads as well as opportunities for Clevelanders facing employment barriers. Now the social venture is asking for a little extra "dough" to continue its mission.
 
Last week, Bloom Bakery launched a $25,000 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to provide capital for its Campus District location at 1938 Euclid Ave. (The bakery has another shop at 200 Public Square.) Funding will go to hiring additional staff, says Logan Fahey, Bloom Bakery co-founder and general manager.
 
"Our reason for doing (crowdfunding) was to get the community involved," says Fahey. "We rely on the consumer to find us and appreciate the mission."
 
Supporters can pre-purchase coffee, lunch, corporate catering, and exclusive baking lessons before the campaign ends June 10. Bloom Bakery is a benefit corporation - essentially a hybrid of a standard corporation and a nonprofit - owned by Towards Employment, a Cleveland nonprofit that offers job training and placement as well as removal of employment barriers for people previously involved in the criminal justice system.
 
All revenue from Bloom Bakery goes to Towards Employment's job readiness programs. Meanwhile, the bakery educates, trains and employs low-income and disadvantaged adults for work as bakers, baristas and other positions. Entry-level jobs pay $8 to $10 hourly, with opportunities available for upward mobility within the company.
 
"Our sole purpose is to give a second chance to individuals who otherwise wouldn't get one," Fahey says. "These jobs can be resume builders or allow people to move onto supervisory positions here."
 
Bloom Bakery currently has 15 staff members, ranging in age from their 20s to early 60s. New employees are vetted through Towards Employment programming, then undergo another month of training at the bakery.
 
As of this writing, the social venture's crowdfunding effort has reached 10 percent of its goal. Fahey and his fellow staff members will spend the next couple of weeks pushing the campaign via social media and word-of-mouth. The ultimate goal is to become the state's best bakery while continuing to operate as a "business with a heart."
 
"There's a large segment of the population in need of an opportunity," says Fahey. "If we become the best bakery, then we can create as many jobs as we want." 

The ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support community.

Walkabout Tremont to showcase neighborhood's eclectic nature

Last December, the Tremont ArtWalk ended a 23-year run as an artist-sponsored event that brought together galleries and bars for a neighborhood celebration. The good times are far from over, thanks to a new tradition planners say will take in everything Tremont has to offer, art included.
 
Like its predecessor, Walkabout Tremont will occur the second Friday of every month. However, the now weekend-long event will expand the scope of the original ArtWalk by showcasing area food, fashion and music along with the local art scene, says Michelle Davis, assistant director of the Tremont West Development Corporation.
 
"There's going to be a different presence on the street than what we had with the ArtWalk," says Davis. "We want people to come and explore the neighborhood."
 
Walkabout Tremont launches Friday, May 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. with extended shop and gallery hours, outdoor entertainment and pop-up tents highlighting Cleveland artists. The Friday night kickoff will also feature live music, tango lessons and stage shows. Visitors are encouraged to visit businesses both established and brand new, from women's boutique Banyan Tree to Ake'demik, a jewelry and gift shop that launched in early May.
 
Event-goers wanting to make a weekend of it can stay at an area bed & breakfast or Airbnb location, note walkabout organizers. Family-friendly activities include enjoying a treat at Tremont Scoops or A Cookie and a Cupcake, a neighborhood audio tour on Saturday and a local church service on Sunday.
 
"People are going to see a vibrant community when they're walking from place to place," Davis says.
 
Founded in 1993 by a handful of artists and activists including long-time resident Jean Brandt, the original ArtWalk blossomed into an institution emulated throughout the city. Brandt stepped down in late 2015, citing the event's widespread influence as well as its ongoing food focus as reasons for departing.
 
Walkabout planning is led by a volunteer group of Tremont residents, business owners and artists, among them development corporation board chair Lynn Murray. The ArtWalk facelift they've brainstormed more closely reflects the creative, if still arts-infused, community Tremont has become, says Davis.
 
"It's about enjoying the neighborhood as it is," she says.  

2016 Vibrant City Award winners announced

Earlier this week Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) honored the 2016 Vibrant City Award winners amid 600 guests gathered at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium. The winners were chosen from a field of 21 finalists.
 
CNP president Joel Ratner honored Cleveland Metroparks with the first-ever Vibrant City Impact Award. The community partner was recognized for its role in managing the city’s lakefront parks, rejuvenating Rivergate Park and bringing back a water taxi service.
 
Ratner also bestowed the Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award upon Joe Cimperman.
 
"Joe is a true champion of the city of Cleveland and Cleveland’s neighborhoods," said Ratner. "He truly is a visionary for making Cleveland a fair and equitable place to call home for all city residents."
 
Cimperman recently left Cleveland City Council after 19 years and is now the President of Global Cleveland.
 
The seven other Vibrant City Award winners include:
 
CDC Community Collaboration Award: Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office
 
La Placita – A Hispanic-themed open-air market providing business development opportunities to entrepreneurs and access to local goods and fresh foods for residents.
 
CDC Placemaking Award: University Circle Inc.
 
Wade Oval improvements - the main greenspace in the University Circle neighborhood received a musical themed amenity boost and became an even more attractive and comforting destination for residents and visitors.
 
CDC Economic Opportunity Award: Famicos Foundation
 
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program management – This organization has excelled in focusing on the financial well being of its residents and had a record-breaking year with its EITC work. 
 
CDC Neighborhood Branding & Marketing Award: St. Clair Superior Development Corp. & Campus District, Inc.
 
Night Market Cleveland  -  the two CDCs partnered and capitalized on past successes and momentum in the AsiaTown and Superior Arts District neighborhoods to create a new destination event that brought exposure to the neighborhood and appreciation for the diverse cultures that surround the area.
 
Corporate Partner Award: Dave’s Supermarkets
 
The local grocery chain stayed committed to Cleveland and provides a much-needed amenity to city residents, providing access to fresh food and produce and on-going constant community support.
 
Urban Developer Award: Case Development, Mike DeCesare 
 
A residential developer that has successfully completed development projects in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and is actively pursuing new developments in other city neighborhoods
 
Civic Champion Award: Joseph Black, Central neighborhood
 
The Neighborhood Engagement Manager for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland that possesses a passion to serve at-risk communities and has aided and mentored Cleveland’s children and families for years.

Delivery service sprouts up, offers nutritious eats for downtowners

Many time-crunched office dwellers are at a loss when it comes to choosing lunch, says Sarah Melton, founder of Young Sprouts, a new made-to-order meal service that delivers farm-fresh food to downtown workers.

Research shows that typical corporate meal breaks aren't beneficial to overall worker productivity, especially when good nutrition is not on the menu, Melton says.

“Many people want to eat healthy, but not a lot of them have the time to make the meals the way they should be made," she says. "That’s where we come in.”

Young Sprouts' bicycle-delivered meals are an organic answer to less-than-healthy lunches that can be obstacles to better business, says Melton, who launched her company last November.
 
Melton’s venture follows a trend in corporate meal delivery, where services like LunchOwl and SowFood have work-better agendas underlying their menus. A 2011 study in Population Health Management states that poor eating habits are responsible for more than 60 percent of low productivity. In 2013, Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) reported that a nutritious lunch could raise worker efficiency by as much as 25 percent.
 
Melton and her chef prepare “nutrient-dense,” box-ready meals. Try chicken sandwiches, nori rolls, chilis and soups, all freshly prepared at the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen. The menu ranges from $4 yogurt parfaits to $9 penne pasta dishes. A summer menu will focus more on cooler, salad-leaning items.

A counselor-turned-foodie, Melton initially conceived the idea of Young Sprouts while working with ex-cons, impoverished families and other at-risk individuals. She's since hired on some of the people she counseled as delivery riders.

Melton aimed to make Young Sprouts happen mostly to “prove that there could be a viable business like this," she says, "keeping food sourced mostly local, avoiding the big box stores - that it’s all possible.”

The “healthy” theme runs throughout the operation from the uniforms worn by delivery people to the compost-friendly boxes housing the meals. Melton aims to align Young Sprouts with strict environmental standards set by the nonprofit B Lab. In addition, the company donates a portion of sales to 1% for the Planet, which directs the funds to a sustainability-oriented nonprofit of Melton's choosing.
 
The food entrepreneur's overall goal is to get all of her goods sourced from Ohio farms within a 100-mile radius. Melton made a connection with Cleveland-based Green City Growers for that very purpose.
 
The all-green image is paying off, says Melton. Young Sprouts customers are smitten with the concept and its meals, especially the chili brisket.

“Instead of having some carb-laced lunch that gets catered to your meeting, they bring these really whole, actually good-for-you meals,” says Carl Baldesare, an avid Young Spouts user and head of Keep It Local, a community organization that promotes small businesses. “It’s amazing.” 

As marketing execs and financial reps continue to rave about the nascent company's meals and mission statement, Melton remains cognizant of the reason behind the good feedback.

“I don’t think it’s well-known how connected our physical health is to our mental health,” she says. “I want to use to this business to bring this to people’s attention. And, of course, to make healthy eating easy.”

David Bowie tribute will be the focus of Dinner Labís next CLE event

Last July, Cleveland became the 33rd location in the country for Dinner Lab – a social dining experiment that hosts regular pop-up dinners in unconventional, undisclosed locations as a way for participants to meet new people, try new food and provide feedback to up-and-coming chefs.
 
The first Cleveland Dinner Lab was held at smARTspace in the 78th Street Studios and the group has held 15 subsequent dinners in the 216 since then. The upcoming event on Saturday, Feb. 20, will honor the late iconic musician David Bowie with “Let’s Dance: A Celebration of the Man Who Sold the World.”
 
"For 2016, Dinner Lab is taking a new, more conceptualized approach to our dinners, explains Elise Baros, Dinner Lab’s media relations manager. "So, rather giving members great chefs, we are now, also giving them great chefs and innovative menu concepts."

The Bowie theme seemed like a timely notion. "For the David Bowie tribute dinner, we thought it was a great opportunity to show admiration for such a legend and provide diners with a really cool menu concept, " Baros says.
 
The accompanying cuisine will be made by one of Dinner Lab’s house chefs and centered around Bowie songs. Menu Items include Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), a beet salad; Return of the Thin White Duke, a cauliflower velouté; Berlin Era: salmon and bread dumpling; South London, shepherd’s pie; and Blackstar/The Parting Gift, a dark chocolate pound cake.
 
Dinner Lab recently began offering free memberships in addition to its $125 select memberships. The free memberships grant access to all core events, while select members receive discounted dinner rates, early registration for the events and access to exclusive additional events.
 
Baros says they started the free memberships to make the experience more affordable. “The problem we were finding was that it’s a huge barrier to entry,” she says. “To think about asking people to pay $125 for a membership and then pay for dinner, that’s [a lot of money] before even paying for a product.”
 
Previous Cleveland Dinner Labs have garnered enthusiastic turnouts. “They’ve been received really well,” says Baros. “Cleveland has always had open arms and been very accepting of the concept of Dinner Lab. It’s always really fun to do dinner in Cleveland.”
 
Tickets to Let's Dance are already on sale, $85, or $75 for select members. The price includes the five-course dinner and open bar with themed cocktails and beer. The location will not be revealed until a week before the event.

Get a history lesson on Cle's lighter side, eat dinner and have a bit of fun at Music Box

Mike Miller has a long history with Cleveland. His grandfather was mayor of the city in the early 30s and is a self-proclaimed story teller.

So it’s only fitting that when coming up with new programming ideas at Music Box Supper Club, the venue’s vice president decided to do a history series on Wednesday nights.
 
But Music Box’s new Cleveland Stories Dinner Parties series, in partnership with Cleveland History Center, isn’t your run-of-the-mill lecture series on general history. It’s designed to be fun and light, at an affordable price.
 
Admission is free and a rotating weekly prix fixe, three course dinner is only $20. “This is an opportunity to have a fun dinner,” Miller says. We wanted to make this outrageously affordable and fun.”
 
The topics are designed to provide behind-the-scenes insight from speakers who know all the gritty details about Cleveland’s landmarks, celebrities and even the city’s pioneers.
 
The first event on Wednesday, Feb. 17 features Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, who will talk about how Cleveland landed the Rock Hall and what goes on when the cameras aren’t rolling in “Backstage Shenanigans at the Induction Ceremony – yes, it is all sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll.”
 
The menu that night will have a psychedelic theme that includes ‘shroom soup, pot roast and a cosmic brownie sundae. “It isn’t going to be real mushroom soup,” Miller jokes in regard to the drug references. The other talks have equally witty titles for the food prepared by chef Dennis Devies. “He knocks people’s socks off,” says Miller.
 
On February 24 Cleveland historian Dan Ruminski will speak on “The Vixens of Millionaires Row,” during which he’ll share stories about Cleveland’s wealthiest founders of the 20s and 30s and the parties their antics. “They used to throw some wild parties,” says Miller. “”There were wild shenanigans.”


 
Three months of lectures have been booked, including journalist Mike Olszewski, who will discuss the final interview with Cleveland celebrity Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) and other untold tales of Cleveland television, and John Gorman will share stories from his time at WMMS radio in the 1970s.
 
“He’s going to tell some crazy stories,” says Miller of Gorman. “Some speakers will be fun, some educational. They will run the gamut.”
 
Another upcoming talk will feature a Metroparks ranger, who will share how Whiskey Island got its name.
 
Miller, who grew up in Cleveland, moved away for college and a career in Chicago, returned to Cleveland in 2010 after 33 years. He says he wanted to share some of Cleveland’s lighter moments in history and encourage Cleveland pride.
 
“Clevelanders are fiercely proud of being from Cleveland,” he says. “We always have that burning rive thing and losing football teams hanging over us, but there’s a real renaissance going on. The pride is coming back.”
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