News & Events

By: Doug Livingston and Kerry Clawson 
 Akron Beacon Journal

A new space to Crave: Downtown Akron restaurant relocating to new Bowery development

For owner and chef Aaron Hervey, the invitation to move his Crave restaurant to the Landmark Building in the up-and-coming Bowery development downtown was an offer too good to refuse.

By April, he expects his current East Market Street restaurant to be in its new home just two long city blocks away at the corner of Main and Bowery in the space that, nearly a century ago, was the two-story lobby of Akron Savings and Loan.

Hervey said Don Taylor, CEO and president of Bowery developer Welty Building Co. and a longtime Crave fan, approached him about the move.

“He felt that we would really be the hometown recognizable brand, the right anchor to help fill those buildings and just basically be the cornerstone of the neighborhood,” Hervey said.

With the city’s help, the move would relieve Crave of an undisclosed debt.

The pandemic put many restaurants out of business. Hervey missed rent payments to his current landlord at the corner of Market and High streets in the historic Castle Hall building owned by developer Tony Troppe and his partners at the Everett Group.

Crave’s relocation also gives Taylor, whose plans to rent retail space have been sidelined for two years, his first commercial tenant at the Bowery.

“If we roll the clock back to 2019, in October/November I had two tenants looking at every space in the building,” said Taylor. “The economy was doing well. The world did not understand what a pandemic would do.”

The prospective tenants said they’d come back when the sidewalk wasn’t torn up and the city’s complete reconstruction of Main Street, which was a couple months behind schedule at that time, was finished. Then news of a novel coronavirus broke, burying any hope of renting street-level storefronts as the economy come to a crashing halt.

Now Welty Construction and its partners on the Bowery project are negotiating with a second business seeking 7,000 square feet of office space. Taylor hopes to announce that deal in the next two weeks.

Taylor said he’s never bullish on restaurants as tenants. Even before the pandemic, their thin operating margins made for an unreliable revenue. Sitting at a conference table with Hervey to discuss the tentative deal, Taylor made that clear.

He told Hervey: “I know this isn’t going to give you any great comfort, but the No. 1 business failure industry is talking to the No. 2 business failure industry. Construction goes out of business more often than anybody. And restaurants are the No. 2. Here we are trying to plot success.”

Taylor said the men laughed at conventional wisdom, prepared to challenge a pandemic that’s upended consumer behavior, jerked around prices and limited the availability of everything from construction materials to chicken wings. The construction company lead, whose company has been around for 76 years and is currently a partner on Ohio’s largest construction project at the new $600 million Sherwin Williams headquarters in Cleveland, said he’s “betting” on Crave’s success.

To account for uncertain times, Taylor said the prospective lease with Crave, though not yet final, would be tied to the restaurant’s sales and not to the 8,000 square feet it would occupy in the bottom of the Landmark Building.

“It will be a function of the success that they have,” said Taylor. “We are definitely betting on the fact that they will be doing very well.”

Why move to the Landmark?

Hervey, who opened Crave downtown in 2005, said the new Landmark space is highly desirable due to the hundreds of thousands of guests that the Akron Civic Theatre and Lock 3 draw annually. The area also features 92 new apartments in the building right above the restaurant space.

Taylor was “pleasantly surprised” to see Akronites snatch up the apartments, which were shown virtually during the pandemic. Only about six are vacant at any given time, he said.

More residential units are coming online across Main Street at The 159 as developers continue to chase market demand for more downtown living.

Hervey estimates the relocation and renovation of the Landmark space to cost upward of $1 million.

A grab-and-go grocery area will offer limited but fresh, nutritious foods, which is a requirement of the publicly funded new market tax credits that helped fund the Bowery project.

When it opens, Crave will be a part of the Downtown Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) that allows businesses around Lock 3 to serve alcohol in special biodegradable mugs that can be filled and taken out for a walk around the canal or along Main Street, Hervey said.
With the move, expected to be complete in April, Crave’s space will grow from 5,000 square feet to more than 8,000 at the Landmark Building, which will seat 140 on the ground floor, 20 at the bar and another 100 upstairs in the L-shaped mezzanine, a 3,200-square-foot space that will be used for special events as well as overflow dining seating. Crave also will seat 40 in a front sidewalk patio area.

“The first time we went and looked at the space, it’s just like jaw-dropping. It’s really dramatic; it’s 25-foot ceilings,” Hervey said.

He plans to redesign Crave’s current horseshoe-shaped dining room booths for the new dining room area at the Landmark and will get new booths for the bar area.

A focal point of the new decor will be a stainless steel sculpture by Akron artist John Comunale, which will rise out of the back bar up to the mezzanine level.

“We’re looking for a showstopper,” Hervey said of the work.

Comunale also will create arms that will cantilever over dining booths with Crave’s signature lights, handblown glass from Crete, that will be moved to the new restaurant space.

Hervey expects Crave to spend at least $500,000 on the move, which will include repurposing furniture, new furniture, new kitchen and bar equipment, and a new, black granite and stainless steel bar. With seating increasing from 212 currently to 313 at the new space, Crave also will need more plates for banquets and about 11 more staff, including more servers.

“We are using almost everything that we currently have but we need more of it,” Hervey said.

Help from the city of Akron

The city of Akron also is supporting the move financially, which may include paying part of Hervey’s back rent to its current landlord. The back rent is a result of the restaurant’s lost business during the pandemic.

Hervey would not specify how much the city may cover.

When Crave opened its doors again early in the pandemic, it was unable to reopen for lunch because the restaurant had lost staff and nobody was working downtown. As a result, Crave lost a third of its revenue stream.

The restaurant, which is still open for dinner only, didn’t see business improving until April, when vaccinations started.

“The entire thing is about the pandemic, and we’re nowhere near what pre-COVID numbers are” sales-wise, Hervey said.

More details about the move

Welty and the city of Akron have pledged to help facilitate parking for Crave customers at its new location, including signage and talk of creating a valet zone in the Bowery area, Hervey said. Guests who park in the Cascade parking deck also will be able to access the back entrance to Crave without having to go outside.

Hervey said his culinary team has notebooks full of new menu ideas but the new Crave location will continue to offer favorites, including the cornflake chicken sandwich, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese and tomato soup.

The current restaurant will close after New Year’s Eve.

Starting in January, everything at the current restaurant will be cleaned and moved or stored while construction is being completed. Booths will be sent out for new springs, seats and fabric and another shop will sand the restaurant’s current chairs and barstools and paint them black.

“We want to make sure that this is clear in people’s minds: Crave didn’t go out of business,” Hervey said. “They’re just moving, and they’re not moving out of the city.”