Where chocolate and cheese intersect, there are always plenty of foodies to be found, and this weekend’s joint pop-up between Lilly Chocolates & Confections and Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. was no exception. Held at Old Brooklyn Cheese Co.’s shop, the popular pop-up marked the second time these two businesses have teamed up in the last month, featuring goodies ranging from gourmet mac-and-cheese to salted caramel-stuffed Medjool dates.
“The first pop-up was nuts, and this one was just as nuts,” says Amanda Montague, co-owner of Lilly Chocolates & Confections. “Old Brooklyn [residents] come out in hordes, which gives me good hope for the future.”
The Lilly stand at Old Brooklyn Cheese CompanyIt’s fitting these two businesses would team up at this moment in time—after all, both are poised to do big things in Old Brooklyn in the near future. Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. was just named one of the nine Cleveland Chain Reaction semi-finalists yesterday, and Lilly Chocolates & Confections is hoping to open its new shop in Old Brooklyn next week after making the move from Tremont this summer.
They’re part of a growing culinary scene in Old Brooklyn that also includes the recently-opened Opal, coffee shops like Metropolitan Coffee and Coffee Coffee Coffee, and ethnic favorites like El Rinconcito Chapin.
But Michael Januska (owner of Old Brooklyn Cheese Co.) and Amanda and Josh Montague (co-owners of Lilly Chocolates & Confections) are no newcomers to Old Brooklyn—all three have been residents of the neighborhood for years.
Learn more about these tastemakers and how they’re helping lead a food renaissance in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood.
Say ‘cheese:’ Old Brooklyn Cheese Co.
Upon return to Cleveland in 2012 after 16 years in London, Michael Januska was happy to be home, but he felt something was missing—a cheese shop, like the ones he’d regularly patronized back in Europe.
“[In Cleveland], getting the good stuff meant going to Heinen’s, West Side Market, or Whole Foods,” says Januska, a chef and certified cheese professional. “I missed having the neighborhood shops—in Europe, each neighborhood has its own cheese shops, pastry shops, and boulangeries. I thought, ‘Why couldn’t Cleveland support something like this?’”
In December 2016, Januska decided to test the waters by opening Old Brooklyn Cheese Co., and he soon found out that Cleveland very much could—and would—support a homegrown cheese shop. Januska found a 1,200-square-foot space in the Kraether Building to rent, and he converted the space directly below it into a production facility and cheese cave.
Januska also tapped into the “Cleveland” angle, enlisting businesses like Lake Erie Creamery and Collision Bend for collaborations (on “Goatzart” aged goat cheese and IPA mustard, respectively). One of his most popular cheeses, Treadway Creek, is named for Old Brooklyn’s Treadway Creek Trail. Currently, Old Brooklyn Cheese Co.’s cheeses are carried locally at Heinen’s, The Grocery OHC, and Zack Bruell restaurants L’Albatros and Chinato.
Januska's passion for cheese shines through when he describes greatest-hit offerings like “The Punk,” a salami-style cheese which he describes as a vegetarian’s answer to chorizo, and "Pickle in the Middle," which tastes like “a cheesy pickle” made with whole-grain mustard, whole black peppercorn, fresh dill, and garlic. The shop also carries more than 100 other varieties of cheese, along with light lunchtime sandwiches and gourmet mac-and-cheese. (Prosciutto and arugula mac-and-cheese, anyone?)
As Cleveland’s only brick-and-mortar cheese shop, Januska says he can hardly keep up with the demand, which is exactly why he applied to Cleveland Chain Reaction. The investment will help Januska meet his goal of finding a larger production facility (for which he’s already pinpointed the ideal building in Old Brooklyn and has made an offer).
“I’m backordered with Heinen’s and barely have enough [cheese left] to sell here at the shop, and I have a distributor who is just waiting for me to say I have enough stock to sell in other states,” says Januska. “That’s why Chain Reaction made sense, because I’ve outgrown my space. Even if I wanted to buy a bigger vat and put it in the basement [at the current shop], I couldn’t physically get it in.”
Januska celebrating Cleveland Chain Reaction with Kenny CrumptonOne of Januska's visions for the new facility is to provide observational corridors with glass windows so that visitors can see into the production area and aging room. Januska has also been talking with other Chain Reaction participants about renting out space in the multi-story building that he’s hoping to purchase.
Januska plans to keep the shop in its current space even when he opens the separate production facility, if for no other reason than the fact that he can walk to work from his house—an asset that he thinks is a huge selling point for Old Brooklyn and its future. “Walkability is key,” he says. “We’ve noticed a difference even since two months ago when Trey [Kirchoff] opened Coffee Coffee Coffee—now people are walking in with coffee cups.”
Now that Januska is one step closer to becoming one of the winning Cleveland Chain Reaction businesses, his goals for growth could swiftly become reality, but either way, he plans to stay the course.
“People are buying the cheese and demanding new batches, which is a good thing,” says Januska. “I’m happy to start thinking about taking a bigger space and figuring it out. Make more cheese, make more happiness.”
Stop the world and melt with you: Lilly Chocolates & ConfectionsSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave
Though this summer marks Lilly Chocolates & Confections’ move to Old Brooklyn after a decade in Tremont, co-owners Josh and Amanda Montague are no strangers to the Old Brooklyn area. In fact, Amanda says, “Old Brooklyn has always been a part of us.”
Amanda MontagueThe couple—who has been together 17 years and married for 11 years—first lived together in the Old Brooklyn home once owned by Josh’s grandparents at the corner of Spring Road and Starlight Drive. Though the Montagues moved to Tremont for several years to live above the shop, they returned to Old Brooklyn six years ago to buy a home in the South Hills neighborhood, which is also where the new Lilly Chocolates & Confections space will be.
As they prepare to open the new shop, Amanda is excited for the possibilities and busily preparing new offerings, mad scientist-style. She plans to introduce 25 new menu items, offering other types of sweets from gummies to marshmallows to buttermints. To reflect the change, the Montagues have changed the name of the store from Lilly Handmade Chocolates to Lilly Chocolates & Confections.
“I want to do interesting, fun things that other bakeries and chocolatiers just don’t do,” says Amanda. “You should see the notebook I have—you have no idea how much crazy I have in store.”
Case in point: éclair-sized bars that mimic the layers of strawberry pretzel salad with Valrona dulce chocolate-dipped pretzels, fluffy vanilla bean marshmallow, strawberry jelly, and freeze-dried strawberries. Another treat in the works is a “cookie dough-nut” with eggless cookie dough shaped like a doughnut, garnished with “assorted delights” like cocoa nibs and candy-coated chocolate chips.
Amanda has had plenty of time to perfect the recipes, as the original open date in the new Old Brooklyn space was July 14, but required inspections and paperwork pushed it back to a target date of early September. “We passed our fire inspection last week, and now we’re waiting on plumbing, and then the health department,” says Montague. “We want to open and get rocking and show you the new space because it’s so totally different than the old space.”
The new retail spaceOn that note, the new space is 850 square feet, less than half the size of the former 1800-square-foot space in Tremont. The new shop will have an expanded kitchen and smaller retail area to accommodate for the higher amount of production. In the future, Amanda hopes to build out the basement and “add a bakehouse concept to it.”
In the meantime, they’re doing pop-ups around town (with an upcoming event at Taste of Hudson this weekend), and Amanda is forming partnerships with other Old Brooklyn businesses like Opal, where Lilly Chocolates & Confections treats can be found on the dessert menu. The Montagues will also host a champagne-and-chocolate tasting at Opal in September.
“The community has welcomed us with open arms,” says Amanda. “Broadview & Schaaf Marathon put ‘Lilly Chocolates Coming Soon’ on their sign, which made me cry. People are happy we’re here.”
The Montagues’ hope is that they can help add to the family-friendly feel and growing business landscape in Old Brooklyn. “We don’t just want to be a fancy chocolate shop, but also a corner candy store for all of these kids and families,” says Amanda. “This is where we live, and this is what we want to see in our neighborhood.”
This article is part of our On the Ground - Old Brooklyn community reporting project in partnership with Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, and Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Read the rest of our coverage here.