The proof is in the pudding: Restaurants open in Fairfax

With the potential to attract 25,000 or more cars in an average day on Carnegie Avenue alone, Fairfax is boosting its development efforts with new places to eat. The Cleveland Bagel Co., which opened this year, was one of the first to see the area’s potential. That opened the floodgates for more restaurants to come to Fairfax.

“Sometimes, it takes a first mover. Cleveland Bagel was a first mover, Angie’s Soul Cafe followed close behind, and then there was Dunkin’,” says Tony Whitfield, economic development director at the Fairfax Renaissance Community Development Corporation.

It is not the first time Angie's has been around town. “Angie’s started at 69th and Carnegie more than 35 years ago,” says Akin Affrica, owner of Angie’s Soul Cafe and Zanzibar Soul Fusion. “The goal was always to come back.”

The Carnegie Hotel kitchen was where Affrica’s mother, Angie Jeter, got her start; it would have been right around the corner from the new location if it was still around. “Right before we found this location, we were working on building one from the ground up, and then this opportunity came along for us to take over the old Hot Sauce Williams location, so we jumped at it,” Affrica says. The new Angie’s Soul Cafe is set to open by Nov. 1, but the team is working hard to open before then.

“For us, it’s very simple. We do, in my opinion, the best soul food in Northeast Ohio and have been the No. 1 soul food restaurant for a long time,” Affrica says. He continues the family legacy of down-home Southern cooking, drawing from Angie’s humble beginnings in a small town in South Carolina.

Angie’s Soul Cafe

Affrica was not the only person looking at the area for opportunities. Despite initial franchisee and location changes, Dunkin’ Donuts’ corporate office decided a Fairfax location was the right move. “They liked the area; they saw what we saw long term,” Whitfield says. The new store will open by the end of the year at 8000 Carnegie Ave. It has some new features, which make it more attractive for people passing through the neighborhood.

“This is what they call their ‘next gen store,’ which has this clean look,” Whitfield says. “[This] Dunkin’ offers something a little unique—it will have an outdoor patio. You can see through [the partition], but it’s not like you’re sitting right on the street.”

All these new developments are exciting for Fairfax and the city of Cleveland overall, but neighborhood mainstays also are working on expansions, such as Red Walters Barbecue and Soul Food. New owner Carmen Preston says she believes the neighborhood is in the midst of a major upswing. “The outlook of the area is promising. The Fairfax area has changed over the years: new houses, new businesses, new sidewalks and roads,” she says.

Whitfield is looking forward to the positive changes that Angie’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Red Walters will bring to the neighborhood. As for the Red Walters expansion, he says, “Sometimes an ownership change brings a fresh, new perspective.”

Wings from Red Walters Barbecue and Soul Food Red Walters has been around for more than 50 years, and Preston intends to keep the food just as delicious while she grows the business. “Red Walters’ [goal] is to connect the community by providing a fun, relaxing atmosphere,” she says. “[We’re] known for the famous sauces, the chicken wings, fish sandwiches, and rib dinners.” The new addition to their building will be completed in 2020.

“By expanding the business, the customers will have a place to sit and eat,” Preston says. “There will be more parking available.” While Fairfax had plenty of takeout options, residents wanted a place to sit for a while. “The area is in need of a warm and friendly place with excellent food,” Preston says, hoping Red Walters will continue to do just that.

These businesses mean viable food options for locals when they want to go out for a meal, but they also attract people from the Greater Cleveland area simply by being themselves. “We’re not adding salads to the menu; we’re not adding lighter fare to the menu. We want to focus on who we are and be the best at that,” says Affrica. “The mission [of Red Walters] is to have an efficient and friendly service based on customer satisfaction,” Preston says.

When Whitfield is considering any new business venture, he looks at the whole picture. “These [businesses] create jobs, and they’re fairly decent jobs. These folks want to hire from the neighborhood,” Whitfield says. That means a growth in property taxes and income taxes. In other words, the Fairfax economy will improve.

And these restaurants are bringing a nice mix of clientele to the neighborhood. “We’re so diverse. It’s an absolute blessing,” says Affrica. “We see everybody—so many different social classes, cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities.”

The other aspect of new businesses is getting customers to stay, to create new memories in an area they may not have visited in a long time … or ever. “Just because it’s in an area you don’t know doesn’t mean that it’s not safe,” Whitfield says. “These developments [are] bringing traffic to the area—and it’s different traffic. We hope it will be a great experience for everyone who’s coming.”

Through all the ups and downs, the neighborhood is hopeful. “My team here—we’re all excited [about] what’s coming down the pipeline. It gets people excited, you get the buzz, you get talking. That’s how you get people in the neighborhood to see what’s coming,” Whitfield says.

While the public sees the end results of development, they often do not see the hard work behind the scenes at Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation and other similar organizations. Often, these businesses take years of planning, and the development is a collaborative effort between multiple neighborhoods. “At the end of the day, some people get territorial. I don’t have time for that, because when it’s all said and done, it’s not about whether this is a Fairfax business or MidTown or Central, Kinsman, or even University Circle. It’s about the city of Cleveland. That comes first,” says Whitfield.

This article is part of our On the Ground - Fairfax community reporting project in partnership with Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, Cleveland Clinic, PNC Bank, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Cleveland Development Advisors. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Read more articles by Rebecca Ferlotti.

Rebecca Ferlotti is a freelance writer and was the project editor for FreshWater's On the Ground - Fairfax series.