Popular Sides to Go attempts a comeback with its new Bedford restaurant

When Ben Holbert decided to expand his Sides to Go BBQ food truck business to a Maple Heights brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2017, he had no idea the fast-casual Southern-style eatery serving up food like turkey wings, brisket, and cobbler would be so popular.

But now, more than two years after opening, Holcomb has lost his lease and is struggling to make his next location happen. So Sides to Go is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign to reopen.

Ben Holbert of Sides to Go BBQWhen he was at the corner of Southgate Park Boulevard, in a neighborhood where fast food options abound, Sides to Go thrived. “We had a very good following of customers in a highly competitive area,” Holbert says. “In two-and-a-half months, we had more than 10,000 customers.”

Within four months, Holbert served more than 20,000 people and developed a loyal clientele. But in October 2018, Holbert’s landlord told him another fast-food chain was going to occupy the space.

Holbert didn’t miss a beat. He agreed to move on and found a new, 860-square-foot location at 55 Northfield Road in Bedford.

“It’s an area where there’s a need for food,” he says. The daycare center next door will drive traffic, 30,000 cars travel by daily, and a much less competitive food market will make the location ideal. “And there’s a good lunch crowd.”

Holbert leased the former ice cream parlor, had an architect draw up plans, and completed a build-out to suit his restaurant.

Then, when he was ready to open in February 2019, the city of Bedford’s building commissioner informed Holbert that he couldn’t open until he installed a new ventilation system, which Holbert says will cost $18,000 to $25,000.

Faced with an expensive roadblock, Holbert heard about the small business crowdfunding organization Honeycomb Credit while taking classes at JumpStart. “We made an application, and we were accepted,” he says.

Holbert is using the Honeycomb campaign to raise the money he needs to finally open in his dream location.

The Sides to Go BBQ team

“We really want to open in Bedford,” he says. He plans to retain the staff he hired at the old location. “We hired 15 people in Maple Heights. We gave people a chance when they didn’t have a chance for work anywhere else.”

For instance, Holbert says he hired a woman who was living with friends to make ends meet and has since gotten her own home, as well as a senior man who was looking to add value to a company. “We had some very strong employees who were dedicated and committed to Sides to Go,” he says. “And we pay above minimum wage.”

Sides to Go was founded by Claude Booker, who was a finalist in the 2017 Cleveland Chain Reaction competition in Slavic Village and runs his own food truck, a restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, and a catering company in Macedonia.

Holbert, who independently owns his food truck and restaurant under Holbert Enterprises LLC, boasts that he offers 22 different side dishes in addition to main courses like brisket, turkey ribs, rib tips, and macaroni and cheese. “We have a pretty robust menu,” he says. “In 2018, we introduced apple, blueberry, and peach cobbler. People were constantly coming in and getting cobbler.”

Holbert plans to offer an express menu, for those in a hurry or picking up kids from the daycare center, and once again provide Southern, down-home cuisine to the community.

“We have a plan, we just have to get open,” he says. “We have somewhat of a [good] track record, but we’re under some sort of challenge to reopen.”

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.