This is the first installment of my blog on interesting people I meet on the road, an idea Ive been tossing around for years. Hope you enjoy my travels as much as much as I do.
When David Blatt came to eat at Houston's restaurant in Atlanta's affluent Buckhead district not long after he was fired as Cavaliers coach in January, 2016, head chef Jacob Cole bought him lunch.
"I felt bad," Cole said.
It seemed like the right thing to do for Cole, 30, a native of South Euclid who attended Brush High School and Ohio State.
But nine years ago, Cole wasn't sure what he was wanted to do. He was washing dishes and peeling potatoes at the Northstar Cafe in the Short North section of Columbus. He'd enrolled at Ohio State thinking he wanted to be a lawyer, but found himself drawn to the food business.
Cole said he cooked for friends as kid and when he went abroad was inspired by a trip to a farmer's market in England. He took a catering job for his fraternity at OSU.
He spent three years at the Northstar before being hired for a management position with the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which encompasses 15 eateries, some of them in multiple cities. But before he could fly to New York for the interview five years ago, he had to find someone to cover his night dishwashing shift at the Northstar.
By the time he was 25, Cole was a head chef at a Hillstone property in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"My mom said, 'You're working a lot of hours,' and I said, 'You don't think I would have been doing this as a lawyer?'" Cole said of his mother, Cathy Davis, who taught special education at Glenville High School when future OSU stars Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. were playing there.
The Buckhead Houston's, now the oldest in the chain, is a magnet for athletes. At lunch last Friday before the Hawks hosted the Cavs, former Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe was eating at the bar with his girlfriend. Cole said NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving once stopped in.
Cole talks as if sports is a part of the job he enjoys, especially since he grew up devoted to the Cleveland Indians of the 1990s, idolizing David Justice, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez and Sandy and Roberto Alomar.
"I think it will always be Cleveland above everything," Cole said. "It's not like I'm depending on the Browns to bring me a championship, but I got excited when Peyton Hillis was good for a year. Last year I went to the Hawks-Cavs series (in the conference semifinals)."
Cole was thrilled when the Cavs captured the NBA championship, ending the city's 52-year drought. Then when the Indians and Chicago Cubs faced off in the World Series, Cole was surprised by how many patrons were cheering along with him.
"I thought we were going to have way more Cubs sympathizers, but people were kind of rooting for us to do it twice," he said.