Now we’re cooking: Chefs Jill Davis and Karen Small embark on a new joint culinary concept

After operating the Flying Fig in Ohio City for nearly 23 years and surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, executive chef and owner Karen Small has decided its is time to close her popular bar and restaurant and move on to the next act in her culinary career. The Flying Fig will close at end of service on Saturday, Feb. 26.

However, that is not the end of Small’s story.

This summer, Small and Jill Davis, a longtime friend and owner of Toast in the Detroit Shoreway’s Gordon Square Arts District, will embark on a new culinary endeavor in the Flying Fig space at 2523 Market Ave. Additionally, Small will open her new breakfast-focused spot, Juneberry Table at 3900 Lorain Ave. in Ohio City.

The name and the concept of Small’s and Davis’ new venture have not been announced but is expected in March.

“I think it’s the natural evolution of moving toward the parts of the business that I really love,” Small says. “I’m just moving toward a different phase than fine dining and a full-service market.”

Small says the past two years have been rough, but the pandemic has also helped her think about what she wants to do. “[The new project] is the only thing that made me stay as positive as I did,” she says. “I have a great team and with federal assistance, I helped keep people employed. It was a hard time, but we are a really close staff and we got it done. In a weird way, it was a very enjoyable process.”

Most of Small’s current Flying Fig staff will stay on through the transition.

While keeping mum on the details of the new project with Davis, Small promises it will be unique. “I think it’s something not currently available in the neighborhood,” she says. “I think we’ve got lots of restaurants—lots of great restaurants—and food has always been a part of my life. There is still going to be a food component to this [new project]. This is going to be something that is still true to my motivation to support people in the local economy and be on the path of sustainability.”

Karen Small, chef and owner of The Flying FigMeanwhile, Small says she is also looking forward to opening Juneberry Table soon. “The space is ready to go,” she says. “We’re just waiting on city approval of the plans and then the state can come do liquor license inspections.”

Small says she and her teams have been working on Juneberry in the former Jack Flaps space for more than two years now. “It was in the works before the pandemic and we worked on it during the pandemic,” she says, adding that the project hit a roadblock in getting city approval that has been resolved.  

Despite the secrecy, Small says she and Davis are eager to reveal their plans.

“It’s an exciting time,” Small says. “I think it was time for a new challenge, and I’m not getting any younger. When all in unveiled, it’s going to be something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The [two new projects] will probably be the last thing I do, business-wise, but both are projects of love, and both are really something I’ve really wanted to do for a long time.”

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.