In a weird way, coronavirus has both slowed things down and sped things up for chef Doug Katz. While his Shaker Square restaurant Fire Food and Drink remains closed and his Fire Catering isn’t seeing much business, his fast-casual Indian Chutney b. n Shaker Heights’ Van Aken District is only doing takeout, and Middle Eastern Zhug on Cleveland Heights’ Cedar Hill is limited to takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup.
The closures and limited service have slowed business down for Katz and his culinary empire.
“I think of the future, and I have to stay busy now,” says Katz. So, he came up with a way to jump start things with a new concept.
Chimi offers South American cuisine and operates out of the former Katz Club, 1975 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, as a “ghost kitchen,” offering only takeout and delivery.
“My catering business is run out of the Katz Club building, so my expenses are still there without any catering jobs,” he explains. But with a 3,000-square-foot kitchen, Katz is now cooking for Chutney b. in the mornings Wednesday through Sunday and preparing meals for Chimi Tuesday through Saturday.
With the opening of Chutney b. last July and the successful launch of Zhug in November, Katz had planned to take this year to develop his next restaurant concept—a place with South American influences.
Katz says he normally would have gone to South America to immerse himself and his staff in the flavors of countries like Argentina and Brazil, to research and prepare for his next concept, but instead he decided to adapt to the current situation.
“Coronavirus gave us the opportunity in Cleveland to do this,” says Katz, adding that most ghost kitchens operate in densely populated cities, working out of basement kitchens in apartment buildings.
“It would have never happened in this way, but you have so many people who want to eat in now," he says. "We’ve had a disruption that allowed us to do [a ghost kitchen] here.”
Chimi opened last Friday, June 12. Named after chimichurri, the herb relish popular in Argentina and Uruguay for enhancing the flavor of meats, the kitchen cooks up a selection of small plates, such as peanut salsa, short rib barbacoa, grilled Peruvian chicken, and sweet potato hummus, as well as breads, tortillas, chips, and a few deserts.
Last week, word got out about the new operation and Katz says his customers did not let him down. “We had a great turnout and had to stop taking orders both Friday and Saturday due to the overwhelming community response,” he boasts. “We are excited to start back up this week.”
Peruvian chicken with aji verde sauceKatz says he will see how the South American concept does and may consider opening a brick-and-mortar version of Chimi down the road.
For now, he says he is just going with the flow. “If I knew the impacts [of coronavirus] were going to last for 10 years, we wouldn’t be doing any of this,” he says. “We want to be busy and doing our thing, but it’s not a get-rich-quick thing. If people want this, they’re going to have to embrace this kind of thing.”
At the same time, Katz says he doesn’t want restaurants to rush their re-openings. He says owners should wait until it’s safe to do so.
“When you go out, you’re going out to feel good,” he says, adding that the precautions take away from the good feeling. “I want people to come back when people are ready, because that’s when people are excited to go out again.”
Chimi is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Orders can be placed by calling (216) 932-3333 or emailing Chimi.