Small Business Spotlight: Crave, Cleveland
by Laura Smith
Published: March 14,2010
Former A La Carte owner teams with Gaines for new Delta restaurant
With a sleek décor, unique gifts, specialty gourmet foods, an espresso bar, dozens of cupcakes and other treats, Crave is quickly becoming a favorite place to dine or lounge in Cleveland.
Open since November, Crave is the brainchild of a partnership between Charlotte Skelton and Stan Gaines.
Skelton owned downtown Cleveland’s popular restaurant A La Carte for 13 years before selling it in 2006, and Gaines owns a chain of gas and convenience stores in Cleveland.
After the sale of A La Carte, Skelton was gaining even more experience in the culinary world as director of catering at Delta State University, and when Gaines approached Skelton about locating a restaurant at the U.S. 61 site of a former gas station, she realized that she wasn’t through with the restaurant business.
“I realized I did miss it. I hadn’t really gotten it out of my system,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
The pair decided they wanted to offer something unique to Cleveland and came up with the plan to open a combined espresso bar and restaurant. That idea led to offering dessert treats like cupcakes and muffins, and expanded into offering take-home foods from the frozen and refrigerated sections.
The culinary side of the business is left to Skelton and her son and Crave chef Marc Walden, who has worked in restaurants in New York, Chicago, Memphis and Charleston, S.C.
“I’m more of the accountant, landlord, bad cop guy,” Gaines said. “I tell everybody, ‘If you like the food, thank Charlotte and Marc. If you like that the air-conditioning works, the roof doesn’t leak and the parking lot is paved, that’s my job.’”
And, Walden and Skelton have developed plenty of menu items to keep customers returning.
Cupcakes are made from scratch by Skelton herself each day and the flavors vary from strawberry with strawberry cream cheese frosting to almond with almond buttercream frosting. Muffins are another treat that accompany coffee, and flavors include blueberry and banana walnut coconut.
The lunch dining experience is what Skelton calls “fast-casual,” in that customers place orders at the register and food is served by runners.
“This concept hadn’t been done in Cleveland, where people are used to having servers and being able to make reservations,” she said. “We wanted to change it up. It is a fast-casual concept, but on the other hand you get real silverware and real dishes, and our ingredients are top-of-the line and incorporated specifically for our sandwiches, salads and soups.”
The unique lunch menu features items not found on a typical Delta menu. For example, the Delta Caesar salad includes fried grit croutons made with Delta Grind Grits from Water Valley.
Another crowd favorite is the Asian Fried Chicken Salad. It is topped with fried chicken with a sweet chili glaze, carrot curls, scallions, homemade sesame wontons and orange ginger vinaigrette.
Sandwiches at Crave include roast beef and turkey that are roasted in house, and the club features slab bacon shipped to the restaurant from Tennessee.
“We slice it ourselves,” Skelton said.
Another popular sandwich is the Zen, which features homemade hummus, caramelized onions, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, roasted Portobello mushrooms with feta cheese, and is served on flatbread.
Soups offered include butternut squash bisque, roasted corn bisque and artichoke mushroom among others.
While lunch is the busiest time for Crave, the espresso bar is popular among customers because of a relaxed atmosphere with soft, leather seating. Skelton said customers come in for an afternoon coffee break and leave with something from the refrigerated or frozen section to take home for dinner.
Customers can take home frozen house-made casseroles or choose from items like chicken salad, pimento cheese or egg salad in the refrigerated section. Italian deli meats and cheeses are also available to take home, as are gourmet products like stuffed olives, local grits, sauces and mixes.
Skelton said on the staff’s to-do list is to open a drive-through for coffee during early morning and afternoon hours.
Crave is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
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