#CLEative Groove: Meet Susan Chapo, founder of Relish Cleveland Tours

Welcome to #CLEative Groove, a new series featuring profile Q&As with our city’s creative makers and shakers! The series is based on FreshWater contributing editor and Creative Groove founder Jen Jones Donatelli’s growing Instagram account of the same name. Read on for our first installment with Susan Chapo, founder of Relish Cleveland Tours.

Full name: Susan Pavelecky Chapo

How long have you lived in Cleveland, and where do you currently live? I’m a “Cleveland lifer.” I grew up on the east side in Wickliffe, the same small city where I currently live with my husband Denes and sons Everett and Cameron.

What do you for work and how do you get into your CLE-ative groove?I am the founder and lead tour guide for Relish Cleveland Tours, my local food-focused tour company. I design and curate tours in and around Cleveland that focus on local eateries and Cleveland sights, stories, and history.

Susan perusing the tasty treats at the West Side Market, all in the name of researchWhat inspired you to start Relish Cleveland? I went back to school to earn my culinary degree at Tri-C, and while doing some research for a class, I ran across a New York Times article about “food sherpas.” I loved the idea of being a guide to the most interesting, authentic, and tasty foods in a particular location. If I’m being honest, the thought of the research involved was hugely enticing—it seemed like a dream job to be the person scouting fantastic places to eat, sampling amazing food, deciding on tasting menus, and finding the stories around the restaurants and the history of the neighborhoods.

I kept that article and idea in the back of my mind throughout culinary school and as I ventured into the hospitality world. I was fortunate enough to work on the kitchen crew for Spice Catering after graduation and learn up-close about their real commitment to using seasonal ingredients and telling a story about the growers, producers, and chefs through the food they were serving.

Based on that experience, I felt like there was a place in Cleveland for a locally-based food tour and that my background would be a good fit. So, in November 2019, I launched Relish Cleveland Tours … five months before a global pandemic!

If you could create the ultimate Relish CLE itinerary curating from anywhere in Greater Cleveland, what would it include? This would be fun! The ultimate Relish Cleveland itinerary would be a multi-day tour.

Day One: We’d start on the west side with a breakfast tasting at Lucky’s and a stroll through Tremont. There are some amazing churches and, of course, the Christmas Story House. I’d follow that up with a trip over to Parma for two stops: pierogis at Rudy’s Strudel and a walk over to Twisted Taino. Then on to Brewnuts (donut tasting!) in Detroit Shoreway, followed by a short walk to Hingetown to check out Larder Delicatessen and Transformer Station.

West Side MarketThe next stop would be the West Side Market. We’d grab some Frank’s Bratwurst sandwiches and Czuchraj jerky to share while checking out the birds-eye view from the balcony. Other stops would include Ohio City Farm, Ohio City Provisions, and Glass Bubble Project, along with Market Garden Brewpub to nosh on Scotch eggs and sip glasses of Prosperity Wheat and Avo for a snack of goat cheese guac.

Of course, no tour in Ohio City is complete without a scoop from Mitchell’s flagship store and production facility. (I think of it as Cleveland’s own Willy Wonka experience!) And since it’s “the ultimate Cleveland tour,” we’d have to end our day at Terrestrial Brewing Co. to catch the sunset over Lake Erie.

Day Two: This day would focus on downtown and the east side. We’d grab some light breakfast bites at Chagrin River Diner in Downtown Willoughby and enjoy a stroll around their historic main street. We’d then drive out east to enjoy tastings at a few Grand River Valley wineries—there are many outstanding spots from which to choose. Our trip back into town would take us to Collinwood for jerk chicken at Irie Jamaican Kitchen and pizza at Citizen Pie. Next, we’d head downtown for a snack at Noble Beast, a look at the harbor, a tour of the Rock Hall, and a stop at Heinen’s, the most beautiful grocery store in the country. We’d end our day of deliciousness (gluttony?) with a walk through Public Square and the food finale on East 4th Street. We’d wrap up the night with live music at one of our local halls.

In your opinion, what are Cleveland’s best-kept cultural and creative secrets?Even though Cleveland is known for the Rock Hall, people don’t realize exactly how much live music is around. There are so many small- and medium-sized venues to catch all different types of live music, such as The Grog Shop, Happy Dog, Beachland Ballroom, Bop Stop, Mahall’s, The Agora, and House of Blues. I suggest that people check out an Apollo’s Fire concert or watch the Cleveland Orchestra from the lawn at Blossom during the summer. We are so extremely lucky to have amazing live musical talent right in our backyard.

Additionally, the Cleveland Museum of Art is beautiful and free, so I’m always surprised that more locals and visitors haven’t been there or haven’t been since a school field trip years ago. The museum has quite a collection including four Van Goghs and an impressive collection of Egyptian art. There are also a tremendous number of opportunities to take classes and immerse your creative self all around Cleveland. Praxis Fiber Workshop, Morgan Conservatory of Papermaking, and Brick Ceramic & Design are all great places to take a class. Upcycle Parts Shop is a fun place to buy project supplies and take classes; my niece volunteered there and introduced our whole family to this cool little shop.   
 
When not running amazing tours, what are some of your other creative passions and how do you indulge them locally? I still cook just about every day and consider that a creative passion. Whether it’s something as simple as plating dinner to elevate it a bit beyond the everyday, building charcuterie boards, or baking for friends and family—it is all creative to me. I also love to garden. I spend a lot of time researching seeds, planning my garden beds and planters, and creating our entire yard aesthetic. I am always drawing inspiration from the designs at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Holden Arboretum, and the variety of lively patios at local restaurants and bars. I have also been working on getting better at my photography and showing my work more.

Share a fun fact about you that might surprise other people: I can operate some heavy excavating equipment (although I’m a bit rusty). My dad owned an excavating company and I worked alongside him on some construction sites. Another fun fact: I’m the oldest of six sisters born within 8.5 years. No twins or triplets in the bunch, and my mom is truly a saint. We are all very close and a bit of a wild bunch.

If you were a Cleveland landmark, which one would you be and why? I think I would be the downtown location of Cleveland Public Library. An always-evolving place for lifelong learning and community… I relate to that.

The Eastman Reading Garden at Cleveland Public Library (photo: Bob Perkoski)

Favorite Cleveland mural/piece of art? Rodin’s The Thinker outside Cleveland Museum of Art. I love the sculpture itself, but also the idea that after it was vandalized, the museum did not replace it or even attempt to repair it. Instead, they recognized the inherent value of the original and the importance of preserving it in its damaged state.

A typical day in your life might include… It almost always starts with getting the teenagers and dogs out the door before I head outside to hike or run. I’m lucky enough to live close to a Metroparks trail, and I am there almost any day there isn’t a thunderstorm or a blinding blizzard. From there, I catch up on local news and human interest stories through podcasts and email newsletters.

Researching local dishes and delights is all part of a day's work for Susan.Some days I’m researching a neighborhood or point of history. Others I’m walking a potential tour route, determining and photographing the points of interest. The best days include leading tours through Cleveland and/or eating at a new or favorite restaurant and thinking about how they could fit on a tour or what I would recommend to clients. Most days I’ll be driving at least one of the kids to sport or music practice, checking on our chickens, making dinner, and—at least once a week—cheering my teens on in whatever seasonal sport they are active in.

Anything else you want us to know about you? Yes, I recently learned that I’m a "multipotentialite"—meaning that I have many interests and creative pursuits—and I found a small group of like-minded people. It’s been freeing because I used to be a bit reluctant to talk about the twisty career path I’ve taken and the subjects that I’ve put huge efforts into learning, only to move along to something else. I realized that there is actually a good reason for much of what I’ve done, and I hope other people like me might find some clarity as well.

I’m an excellent student when I’m interested in the subject matter, and I’ve been pretty good at my many jobs—whether as a construction manager, a licensed wealth management assistant, a market gardener, a retail food salesperson, or a catering chef. But I thought it was a flaw and not a strength that I would get bored or pulled in a new direction and completely fascinated with doing something else.

Now I look at it all and think these stepping stones were all preparing me for entrepreneurship and blending my passions into an exciting career. And honestly, I believe that what I am doing now will be something I stick with in some form or another for a very long time.

Learn more about Susan and Relish Cleveland Tours here, and stay tuned for more #CLEative Groove profiles! You can also follow @CLEativeGroove on Instagram here, or send suggestions for people to profile here.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. Along with her work at FreshWater, she is the editor-of-chief of Edible Cleveland and a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes for Creative Groove, Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.