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Deed To Lee Road Dining Cars Transferred to Bank

Favor Bistro closed at the end of May, and the owners of the historic dining cars have given up on the property and transferred the deed to Fifth Third Bank.

A handful of restaurant owners have tried their luck on the pair of nostalgic dining cars on Lee Road. And yet another business has failed.

, which opened just a year ago at 1975 Lee Road, closed at the end of May.

Now the future of the stainless steel dining cars, brought to Cleveland Heights from the east coast by owner Steve Presser about a decade ago, lies with Fifth Third Bank.

Father and son Pat and Chris Tsilianidis said they have owned the property for the past eight years and watched as eateries, including their own, met untimely deaths.

Pat Tsilianidis estimates he’s lost more than a million dollars on the property.

“But that’s business. You have to move on,” he said.

Chris Tsilianidis said they recently transferred the deed to the Fifth Third, the bank that housed their mortgage.

“Honestly I have no idea what the bank’s plans are for it, but they seem motivated in getting a deal done,” he said.

Howard Thompson, economic development director for Cleveland Heights, said he’s attempting to work with Fifth Third and that there's interest in the land.

“We want something that’s appropriate there, whether it is a restaurant, which has never done real well there, or we look at some other kind of unique opportunity … it may be commercial office oriented,” Thompson said, noting other businesses nearby like and the new .

Presser brought the cars from Atlantic City and Pennsylvania, and called the restaurant project his “baby.” He opened Dottie’s Diner and Sweet City Diner in the early 2000s on the former used car lot, and it failed about a year later.

“The restaurant business is very difficult. It has the highest rate of failure of any new business. It’s sad that no one has been able to make a go there,” Presser said.

Pat Tsilianidis, who also owns Cleats in Mentor, bought the vintage cars from Presser and named the cars after his two sons — Chris’ Diner and Jimmy’s Diner. When that closed, Tsilianidis leased the building to a woman who opened Gali Gali, a kosher restaurant that “died a quick and miserable death,” Presser said.

Then Clyde Mart, a well-known local restaurateur, opened . According to an article in The Plain Dealer published in May 2010, Mart renovated the interior to rid it of its traditional diner car look and hoped to also change its unlucky history.

“He had a great following and did a great job,” said Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelley.

But after about a year and a half, Clyde’s closed and Favor Bistro quickly took the reins. Many said Mart’s health was a big factor in why the family chose to shut down the business. Mart's daughter, Vivian Gatta, who ran the restaurant alongside her father, told The Plain Dealer they closed shop because she was considering moving to Arizona.

“We need a fresh look at how that property can be more user-friendly for (diners),” Kelley said, adding that he'd like an experienced restaurant owner to take over. “(The area) has so much potential … It’s definitely on the comeback, and I want to see something good happen there.”

Pat Tsilianidis wasn’t so optimistic.

“Nobody’s going to make it here,” he said, sitting on a stool, watching as the owners of Favor Bistro piled checkbooks, menus and other items into dark green garbage bags.

Candi Robinson, who opened Favor Bistro with her sisters, shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s a very unique location, but it’s been difficult for everybody who was here,” she said, adding that the family is taking the establishment, which specializes in Creole and southern dishes, to Shaker Heights. She said she couldn’t discuss the new location or other details yet. “We started doing very well, but I think this was bad for anybody who was ever here.

“I’m glad it’s over.”

C. Minot June 21, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Didn't know about Zagara's desire for the place. If so, it is better than sitting vacant. I think the future of the diners has more to do with how the new installed brewery will do. I guess if you can come up with something unique, you might stand a chance. Even then...look how many restaurants have come and gone up on the other end of Lee. There has been a lot of changes at CH City Hall as of late. Let's hope the people coming in have some fresh ideas and are open to change. Sometimes in CH, I feel as though we are in a rut. Not that change is always the answer. However, we are in a tough economic position at present and it is going to take some thinking outside the box/
Ted Dick June 21, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I disagree with Jake's premise. I went there when it was outfitted and operated as a diner. Clyde earned the wrath of diner aficionados when he remuddled the diners but he served better food. I always thought parking and access limited the diner's potential. Both Zagaras and the Bottlehouse Brewery have plenty of parking.and easy access. The questions to ask are, Why did Steve's Presser diners fail? I did not go right after they opened but it was plenty busy when I went. Did Clyde's fail financially? Clyde died a sure sign of poor physical rather than financial health. The diners would do fine a cross the street - I bet.
C. Minot June 21, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I don't want to make accusations because maybe Mr. Presser did all he could to make the diner a go...but he knew nothing about running a restaurant. I know it was busy in the beginning but towards the end, I do believe it was having problems. And again without making accusations I have always found it interesting that Mr. Presser moved to his new location after the fall of the diner and his default on the loans backed by the city. Again...maybe it is all above board but the perception is there that something wasn't right with the whole deal.
Karin Jones June 30, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Except for Favor Bistro and Gali Gali, I went to the other incarnations of the diner cars on many occasions. Every time, there were problems with the service...either not enough servers or very inexperienced/nervous servers. It is a mystery to me why some restaurant owners pour tons of cash into their businesses and then staff so poorly. A long time ago I waitressed at the Green House at University Circle when it was run by the Minillo family. They trained us to high standards (even though it was a casual eatery), and made sure we were a well oiled machine when it came to serving customers, and that is why that restaurant lasted so long (I wish it was still there!). In my opinion, none of the businesses in the diners ever had that "well oiled machine" feel, even after being open for months...if anything, service declined as time went on, which was frustrating.
rich minkowetz July 17, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I recall the place being an ice box in the winter, when you sat near an exterior wall. Parking is not very adequate. Food eateries have come and gone in the Cedar-Lee area. But the bottom line is food quality and service. A great example is Big Al's Diner on Larchmere. The service is attentive. The quantity and quality of the food I have eaten there is exceptional. If you have a good product, people will show up. Jayson's was on the corner of Washington & Lee. Later at the same spot was Lopez & Gonzales. Tremont is out of the way, its patrons don't all live in the neighborhood. And it is doing well.

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