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.”