Let’s get this out of the way. The tall illuminated sign outside the 60-plus-year-old East Park Restaurant is wrong.
It says the eatery/bar in Ravenna is open 24 hours, though the place hasn’t been open around the clock in years. But the decades-old light blue and red sign is a local icon, so it’s staying.
So says Matt Schmahl, who at age 25, has taken it upon himself to preserve much of East Park’s charm — including homey recipes such as breaded fried chicken and the Paul Bunyan ground sirloin burger — while infusing it with some youthful energy.
“Not too many restaurants can say we’ve been around as long as East Park,” Schmahl said, showing off the restaurant’s 50-plus-year-old liquor and food service licenses. He’s had them framed and they hang on the paneled walls of the dining room. They share space with old pictures of the restaurant, including one that reveals it was once attached to a Sohio gas station.
“Vintage is hot right now,” said Schmahl, who’s working hard to play up the old-school ambience to a younger generation. In June, he hosted the restaurant’s first-ever beer tasting paired with menu items.
Schmahl points out items he hasn’t tinkered with, including hand-breaded onion rings, hand-cut steaks and daily specials such as chicken a la king on Mondays.
“This is sort of something we’ll never see again,” he said. “I think younger people realize that.”
He’s added some items, such as “heart healthy” wraps and the Big Rig burger — a 1-pound burger on a kaiser bun. “Lots of restaurants have challenge foods; I thought we needed one,” Schmahl said.
Longtime customer Helen Hahn, 81, tried one.
“It was great,” said Hahn, noting that she took some home to share with her son.
She’s been a customer for decades, and is happy to see the place making changes without making too many. It’s still “like a nice family restaurant … Steve is still here,” she said of general manager Steve Boos, 59. “He’s like a son.”
Schmahl, an Akron firefighter, had long had an itch to get into the restaurant business. He became an owner earlier this year when he joined a partnership that took over East Park in 2009. Prior to Schmahl coming on board, the group had made such improvements as having new siding installed on the old concrete block building and paving the parking lot.
A nutrition and fitness buff, Schmahl had thought about opening an eatery that served smoothies and wraps. Then Ken Orihel, one of the area investors who bought East Park five years ago, said, “How about you get your feet wet first in the industry?” recalled Schmahl.
Now, he’s getting coached by Boos, including on how to cut steaks.
“We never use any frozen meat,” Boos said proudly.
Boos, who has been with East Park since 1986, and other longtime employees are a main reason the place has thrived, say Schmahl and former owner Jim Grohe, whose father, Kenneth, bought the place in 1958.
“Steve has a degree in business administration,” Grohe said, “and he’s been in the restaurant business his whole life [more or less], and most of it was with us,” at East Park.
Now, Grohe said, Boos is passing along the lessons to the new owners.
The bar/restaurant serves food until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and is at 1363 E. Main St. in Ravenna. Call 330-296-4827 or go to www.eastparkravenna.com.
July 4 ribs
Bring on the pork! The longtime family-owned Bar-B-Q Boss in West Akron will celebrate customer appreciation day Friday by grilling ribs in front of the store at 826 Copley Road. Buy a dinner and get a free pulled pork sandwich. There will be free hamburgers and hot dogs for children.
The Bar-B-Q-Boss also on July 4 is offering two slabs of ribs (12 bones each), along with two extra-large portions of side dishes, for $37.99. That’s about $5 off the regular price. Homemade side dishes include macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cole slaw, rice and gravy and black-eyed peas.
Three generations work at the Bar-B-Q-Boss, including founders Leroy Singletary Sr. and his wife, Addie, who bakes desserts such as sweet potato pie and strawberry shortcake.
Their sons Leroy Jr. and Ray and daughters Tootie Walker and Janine Thompson also are involved with the business. Ray Singletary Jr. is part of the third generation; he’s been helping out with marketing after graduating from North Carolina Central University last year. Cousins Amaris Oberlin and her sister Aleece Walker, daughters of Tootie Walker, and Ashley Singletary, daughter of Leroy Jr., also work at the place. Call 330-434-5001 or go to www.barbqboss.com.
Fairlawn native Kate Horning, who now divides her time between the Akron area and Lexington, Ky., will sign copies of her book Healthy Living Redefined: Live It. Share It, from 2 to 4 p.m. July 12 at Barnes & Noble, 4015 Medina Road in Bath Township. She reports that her book “guides you in escaping diets, eating for pleasure and discovering what you desire.”
Her studies about nutrition began with writing a book report at age 13 so that her mother would allow her to become a vegetarian, according to a news release. The book focuses on plant-based foods, but is applicable “no matter what your health or fitness beliefs,” the release says. For more information, call 330-665-5199.
Food Truck Frenzy
The invasion of the food trucks continues. The Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Department will host a Food Truck Frenzy from 4 to 8 p.m. July 13 at Keyser Park Barn, 851 W. Bath Road. The evening will include a concert by the Wanda Hunt Band at 6 p.m.
Trucks scheduled to roll in for the event are Wholly Frijoles, Swensons, Zydeco Bistro, Orange Trük and Sushi on the Roll. Rita’s frozen treats and Frankly Franks Kettle Corn also will be on hand.
Live music and activities for kids will run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. There is no admission fee. Bring lawn chairs and blankets if you want to sit. For information, call the city’s Parks and Recreation Department at 330-971-8225.
Old Carolina is 11
North Canton-headquartered Old Carolina Barbecue Co. is celebrating its 11th anniversary by offering full slabs of ribs for $11 through Sunday. The slabs, which include 12 rib bones, are regularly priced at $19.99.
Old Carolina, which has grown into a regional chain, began as a traveling barbecue team. Brian Bailey, Old Carolina Barbecue’s co-founder, says the team sold its first rib bone at the rib festival in downtown Akron in July 2003.
Bailey and co-founder Tim Hug opened their first shop in Massillon in 2006. Later this month, the chain will open its 10th location, a franchise restaurant, in Orrville. Old Carolina cooks its meats on site with hickory wood.
Speaking of ribs (this is a rib-heavy column), the annual Rib, White & Blue festival returns to South Main Street in downtown Akron through Saturday. Admission is free. Gates open at 11 a.m. each day. Twelve rib vendors from seven states will vie for cash prizes. The four-day festival includes tribute bands at Lock 3 Park’s Akron General Stage. Alex Bevan, Brass Band of the Western Reserve and the Akron Symphony Orchestra will perform July 4, followed by fireworks at 9:45 p.m., in conjunction with the Akron RubberDucks. For details, visit www.akronribfestival.org.
Coming up at Lock 3 in downtown Akron is the Italian-American Festival, which will run July 11-13. This year, it will include a pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) competition at 3 p.m. July 13. Buy a ticket for $5 to get a taste of all five and vote for the People’s Choice Award.
Competing will be Altieri’s Pizza in Stow, DBA Dante Boccuzzi Akron, DeVitis Italian Market in Akron’s North Hill, and Nicoletti’s Park Place, which opened last year at the former Hook, Line & Drinkers in Coventry Township.
The competition will be in the Akron Toy Marble Museum inside the Akron History Museum at Lock 3, off Main Street. The American Toy Marble & Toy Manufacturing Co. used to stand where Lock 3 is today. For information about the festival, visit http://it-am.org.
Chick-fil-As nationwide, including the franchise shop at 420 Howe Ave. in Cuyahoga Falls, are serving up a new line of grilled entrees, responding, as many restaurants are, to nutrition-minded customers.
Chick-fil-A, known for its fried chicken sandwiches, says it invested seven years of testing and more than $50 million to reinvent its grilled chicken recipe. The largest portion of the investment involved the creation of a proprietary grill.
Erich Weiss, who opened the Howe Avenue Chick-fil-A in 2007, is holding monthly drawings. Weiss had a Chick-fil-A franchise in Beachwood Place that he gave up shortly after opening the Falls store.
Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.