When Shana Black asked me to host a podcast about Real Cleveland Food Stories, I was flattered. Although I'm a relative newcomer to the city of Cleveland, I've found my way around the city and surrounding communities and have uncovered some remarkable food stories. The intent of the podcast, a project sponsored by WOVU and Edible Cleveland was to tell the stories of people who contributed to the urban food experience. It's become so much more.
Shana and I covered Taste of Black Cleveland: The Foodshowcase 3.0 back in early February which included 24 chefs who own local Cleveland restaurants, food trucks and catering businesses at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. It was my first big food “event” and I couldn’t have been more excited, although I didn’t know what to expect. So much fun! Photo ops galore and food. It was a colorfully delicious event with food and drink to please every palate from all over the city.
The night was a dizzying array of so many delectable foods and spectacular cocktails.
The podcast was launched soon after the event with our recap and an intro as to what we’d be covering in future spots.
We’ve been able to share stories behind some of the food and the people in Cleveland. It is immensely gratifying to me to speak with people who are so passionate about this city and their food. I've learned so much about Cleveland (and Ohio) through these stories. As a food business who launched in Cleveland and continues to operate during this pandemic, I'm especially grateful for the fellowship of the men and woman, businesses and organizations that keep this city fueled, both literally and figuratively. Food is so much more than what's eaten off a plate.
As a transplant, I’ve been able to visit neighborhoods and communities across Northeast Ohio where food is plentiful or scarce. Food brings people together and regrettably drives them apart, because of food deserts or insecurity. And, this is not just in Northeast Ohio. I saw it in New York and other cities I've lived in and traveled to in the United States over the years. My childhood neighborhood of St. Albans, NY was once filled with thriving mom and pop businesses along a busy main street (Linden Boulevard). At one point, farms were plentiful and backyard gardens were the norm. As time went on and those businesses left, including grocery stores and my family traveled further and further away from the community just to buy staples.
I worked as a cashier after school in high school and saw firsthand just how far people walked with groceries. I'd carefully fill and nest brown grocery bags (sometimes 6 high) into shopping carts or buggies to withstand the journeys across cracked cement sidewalks, rutted roads and into walk-up apartments just so the groceries could get home in one piece. It was what people did, especially if you didn't have a car. There was a bus stop right in front of the grocery store and often I'd have to hurriedly check out and pack groceries so customers could catch the bus, lest be left standing out in the cold, heat, snow or rain until the next bus arrived.
I'm frequently ask people who grew up in Cleveland about their experiences with food. More times than not, I'm told that parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles came from other cities in the United States and settled here. Families brought the foods of their childhoods with them when migrating to the Midwest and continued to prepare these foods for their growing families and neighbors. Large gardens were a norm here at one time.
Local farmers markets have grown in popularity as farms left the cities and have brought farm fresh fare back to cities and towns across this country. I recently visited the Frostville Farm Museum and Farm Market and met with manager Angela Obbish who is a fierce advocate of small producers in Northeast Ohio. Each Saturday, the Market has about 20 vendors who bring a variety of local foods (mushrooms, produce, popcorn, honey, maple syrup, just to name a few) to the Farm Museum property so people can shop. The day I visited was cold and rainy, but it didn't seem to matter, people came out to support the market.
With the current pandemic, I've noticed that food supplies have changed and certain items aren't as readily available in grocery stores. Grocery managers say that logistics and distribution channels have been altered this year--not that food isn't available, it's just a challenge getting it to where it needs to go. Hence, consumers are altering what they eat based on what's available. Taste is an important part of what folks have been eating this year as a way to comfort themselves and their families in this period of uncertainty. Simpler, less fussy food, albeit delicious, seems to be what we crave these days. We all want to feel better.
My family recently roasted a turkey (thank you Tea Hills Farm) outdoors because we didn't want to wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy some of our favorite foods and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was, especially since we were able to make porch drop off meals for neighbors. This is what Thanksgiving means to me. Mind you, I never, ever grilled food outdoors (other than in summer) before moving to Cleveland, but it's not uncommon to cook year round outdoors here so we followed suit.
Stay tuned. A new podcast will be up shortly with my guests from Squash the Beef Catering--it's a wonderful conversation and will be available on Spotify, Google, Apple and Anchor streaming services.
Pat Bennett is the founder and President of Pat's Granola, a Cleveland based food company. Pat's Granola is sold online at www.patsgranola.com and is also available at several Northeast Ohio retail locations including:
Troubadour Coffee Roasters www.troubadourcoffeeroasters.com
Sports and Spine Physical Therapy www.sportspine.com
Local Flavors Shoppe www.localflavors.net
Rittman Orchards and Farm Market www.rittmanorchards.com
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport www.clevelandairport.com
Locle Box www.loclebox.com
Good Foods Brands www.goodfoodbrands.org
Market Wagon Northeast Ohio www.marketwagon.com