Marc Bona, features writer, cleveland.com spoke to Bill about...
Black Door Tavern set to open this month
GENEVA, Ohio – Among the preparations Gene Sigel did to getBlack Door Tavernready to open was a bit of reading.
The bar-restaurant - which is scheduled to open Friday, Jan. 21, at 6202 S. River Road in Geneva – will complete a culinary-libation triumvirate on his property that includes a winery (South River Vineyard) and cocktails (Red Eagle Distillery).
With Black Door Tavern, he said, “Our concept is to be a tasting bar in the wine region.”
A cocktail bar is on the second floor of the building whose lower level holds open wood-paneled rooms. As Sigel describes the house: “It was built to entertain.”
“Entertain” means more than drinks, apparently.
Sigel said decades ago it was a brothel and speakeasy.
In 2011, Sigel bought a farm adjacent to his property. He has 140 acres with grapes that also include his winery and distillery. The tavern is opening in a home built in the 1890s.
He said the former owner told him “it was a speakeasy and a brothel during Prohibition. I honestly never was sure if she was telling me those things because she wanted to make sure I had an interest in the property … or if it were really true.”
But he did some digging and found records dating to January 1927 that said a previous owner was arrested on suspicion of possessing liquor and that the house was searched by the sheriff. It referred to the house as “a well-known establishment.”
“Clearly there were some things that happened in this house a long time ago that led it to be an operation that was notorious,” Sigel said. “In that respect, it was just such a nice brick building that I didn’t want to live in it.”
Rather, he said, as he worked on the house, he knew he wanted to integrate food in some way.
“I’ve been remodeling for a long time,” he said. “For a number of years I was feeling discouraged because I couldn’t seem to get the project done. Luckily, I didn’t have it open before the pandemic because now I have the luxury of being able to open afterwards. I think the silver lining has been it took me seven years to get here. That’s not always a good thing to say, but in this project, I think we’re opening at a time when it’s comfortable.”
Not only is the timing fortuitous, but so is the location. Wineries have been booming in the northeastern corner of the state, but quality food options haven’t kept pace.
Having a fine-dining establishment and places with quality cocktails is “an asset to our area,” he said.
Sigel credits chef Chris Di Lisi as the mastermind in the kitchen. Di Lisi’s resume includes openingFlourin Moreland Hills and Willeyville near the East Bank of the Flats, as well as working atPier Win Lakewood.
“We’re conflicted, quite honestly, as to whether we are opening a high-end cocktail bar that serves quality food or a food establishment that serves high-end cocktails,” Sigel said.
More than a dozen dishes on the menu fall under the headings “land,” “pasture” and “water,” along with a pair of dessert offerings under “save room.”
While the menu is small the flavors cross multiple cuisines and tastes: Expect naan with hummus, shaved brussel-sprouts salad, chicken pot pie and seafood fra diavolo. And the prices top out at $21.
To start, Black Door Tavern will be open weekends only, but Sigel aims to expand to seven days.
“It is a difficult time to bring on staff, but I am anxious to focus our energy on a moderate start rather than something that comes on intense,” he said.
The wine menu isn’t even posted yet. And while Red Eagle Distillery focuses primarily on bourbon and rye, the tavern will offer seasonal cocktails, tequila, gin, rum and other drinks, including craft beers from across the state.
The cool part is customers can mingle on what Sigel calls a “campus.” The interconnected trio allows for someone to saunter from one to another with a drink and not violate open-container laws.
“Quite frankly, ‘20 and ‘21 have been the busiest years I have ever had in a business,” he said. “I wish I could say that because I did something right or I had planned for that. But we’re outdoors and we have a lot of outdoors seating and people could feel comfortable and safe here in a way they didn’t find in a confined environment.”
New York Times includes Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute on ‘changed world’ list
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The New York Times has included Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute on its annual travel list of “52 places for a changed world.”
The fine-dining French restaurant, founded by Brandon Chrostowski, hires recently released incarcerated individuals, training them for the myriad of culinary jobs. His non-profit provides a multitude of re-entry support services.
The Times says its travel list of destinations “looks at spots where visitors can be part of the solution to problems.”
Edwins is listed at No. 12. It is the only entry in Ohio, and one of only 13 in the United States.
The newspaper describes Edwins as a place whose “mission of social justice turns dinner into a means of uplift.”
Chrostowski opened Edwins in 2013 in Shaker Square and has since expanded its footprint, including a life-center campus in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood, a diner, butcher shop and more. In 2020, he followed the flagship restaurant with a sequel, Edwins Too, in the former fire food and drink location. Edwins Tooshifted focus in 2021 to a more incubator restaurant business space.
“To receive this global recognition is a testament, that when you follow a moral compass and do what’s right and just and never (waver), it can change the world,” Chrostowski said in a release. “For all our students and graduates at EDWINS who show promise, perseverance, and humility and the unwavering Buckeye-Shaker community, we’re eternally grateful. You never know whose life this is going to touch.”
The Times says its list aims to offer “inspiration for your own more purposeful, more fulfilling travel in the coming year and beyond.”
Ohio’s Donniella Winchell named to 10 ‘Most Inspiring People’ list in wine industry
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Donniella Winchell, executive director of theOhio Wine Producers Association, is one of 10 individuals across the country being honored for their commitment to the wine industry.
Wine Industry Advisor– an online publication covering the wine industry – included Winchell on its list of “Most Inspiring People.” The compilation encompasses winery owners, a journalist, a viticulturist, educators and others.
When Winchell found out, she felt honored especially when she saw the other recipients, veterans in the industry.
“I saw the list, and I thought – ‘What the hey!’,” she said
The other winners, she said, are “people whose resumes are – wow – impressive,” said Winchell, who does not know who nominated her.
Winchell – based in Northeast Ohio - has been a tireless and passionate supporter of Ohio wine and wineries for more than 40 years, lobbying for an industry that has grown tremendously. When Winchell became executive director of the association in 1978, the state had 13 wineries. Today, almost 400 exist.
The flagship event is the annual Vintage Ohio, the large-scale tasting in Kirtland. Winchell has been coordinating Vintage Ohio since its inception in 1978. She credits the support staff over the years who have helped.
“It really is a huge team effort,” she said.
“We started Vintage as a way to introduce wines to people,” she said. “There were over 90 wine festivals in Ohio last year. When we started Vintage we were alone. We created Vintage to be a tool to build the industry – not an event to sell wine – but a tool to build the industry. To expose people to the wine, drive people to the wineries, work with the media and take the money we need and re-invest in other things. So we certainly are, in part, event driven. But Vintage is a pretty well-oiled machine.”
A second Vintage Ohio downstate was added three years ago, and Winchell recently signed an agreement for an indoor event in Bowling Green this summer.
Winchell has served on multiple tourism boards and economic development councils and is an adjunct professor at Kent State-Ashtabula, teaching marketing and wine industry-related courses. In addition to waving the flag for the industry and organizing events, Winchell has fought diligently to change the entrenched perception Ohioans have of local wines.
“The Ohio wines over time have been regarded just as sweet jelly-jar wines,” she said. “It’s very difficult to break that mold when you focus on festivals and events when (most) of the population drinks sweet wine.”
That means over the past few years, Winchell has added a marketing focus on “building the awareness that we can do some really exceptional cool-climate whites.”
That translates to adding upscale dinners and reaching out to “affinity partners” like coffee shops and craft breweries, where some consumer overlap might be mined.
Winchell’s goal in the near future is “to bring folks into the awareness that the sophistication of some of Ohio wines is pretty exceptional.”
“If we can bring a serious Starbucks consumer into an Ohio wine experience, because they are looking for that modicum of sophistication, we’re going to try to do those kind of things,” she said.
So expect smaller, targeted groups where Winchell sees an opportunity to open the minds of aspiring oenophiles to the likes of Ohio’s Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, unoaked Chardonnay and other varietals.
For the first time in 2021, Wine Industry Advisor opened the submission process to the industry at large. Winners were selected from more than 100 nominees, the common denominator being their impact on the U.S. wine culture.
•Marty Clubb, co-owner of L’Ecole N˚41 of Walla Walla, Washington.
•Julia Coney, a wine educator and leading Black voice launching conversations about race in the industry.
• JournalistCathy Huyghe, CEO of Enolytics, a wine-business intelligence firm, and Forbes columnist.
•Christa-LeeandDarrien McWattersof the Time family of wines, the multi-generational winery in British Columbia, Canada.
•Dennis Murphyof Caprio Cellars, committed to 100% estate-grown wines in Walla Walla, Washington.
• Spring Mountain Vineyard’sRon Rosenbrand, who helped firefighters save his historic buildings during California’s wildfires.
•Alex Ryan, CEO of the Duckhorn portfolio.
•Ali Smith Story, owner of Smith Story Wine Cellars in California and Instagram influencer.
•Tony Wolf, viticulturist, extension specialist and educator in Virginia.