The owners of the Valley Cafe are cooking up big things in downtown Wadsworth.
They are working on two fronts.
Responding to a demand for more evening dining spots in the city’s downtown, B.J. and Nicole Mikoda are offering dinner Tuesday through Saturday at their Valley Cafe in an airy, century-old building at 101 High St.
The Valley Cafe in Wadsworth is a sister spot to the Mikodas' original, popular Valley Cafe in the Merriman Valley. This restaurant continues to be a breakfast-and-lunch only place.
The dinner menu in Wadsworth boasts well-executed, scratch-made comfort food, including Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf, roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and ravioli of the day. B.J.'s Cajun Corner of the menu features gumbo, shrimp and grits cakes and more.
Meanwhile, the Mikodas plan to expand their culinary footprint. Later this year, they hope to open a dessert-gelato-wine place — called Dolce, as in the Italian word for “sweet," — at The Strand, in the iconic Strand Theatre building. It’s at 123 Broad St., across the street from their restaurant.
“We feel in tune with Wadsworth,” Nicole said, noting the city’s efforts to boost its downtown.
“We like being part of a community,” B.J. said.
In May, the couple bought the Strand, which includes seven office spaces (five are currently leased) in addition to the space that housed the theater. Nicole said she and B.J. are making a "sizeable investment" in the property, taking out a hefty mortgage to pay for buying and fixing up the place. She declined to say how much the couple paid for the property; county property records do not reveal a purchase price.
Dolce at The Stand “is a continuation of creating great spaces for people to gather downtown,” Nicole said. The couple opened the Wadsworth Valley Cafe in early 2015, about seven years after they opened the Akron Valley Cafe in 2008.
Built around 1910 for vaudeville shows, the theater showed movies in the 1960s and 1970s. It underwent extensive renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the current old-style marquee with lights was installed in 2004. The theater space most recently has been an event center.
Outside bocce courts are planned for land next to the theater building.
The gelato will be “fresh, made-on-site, no shortcuts,” said Nicole, who is looking for a local dairy to supply the milk to make the gelato.
Sorbet — a fruit-based frozen dessert with no dairy — also will be available.
A quick primer on gelato, which is Italian ice cream. Like ice cream, gelato is made with milk and sugar. Ice cream typically has a large proportion of cream and egg yolks. Gelato contains more milk than cream and a small amount of egg — if any.
The sweet stuff at Dolce at the Strand will include Italian desserts, such as tiramisu, pizzelles, cannoli and biscotti.
So when will Dolce open?
“We’d be delighted to open by Christmas,” Nicole said, quickly noting that she may be overly optimistic about how long it will take to get interior work on the building finished.
For now, the Wadsworth Valley Cafe is busy building its dinner customer base.
So far so good, said the Mikodas on a recent weeknight as a respectable number of tables and booths filled up. Even though it was a toasty evening, a couple of patrons opted for the patio out back.
“We’ve had some people come back twice in the same week, saying, 'I have to get that gumbo again,' " B.J. said.
The Cajun Corner includes a red beans and rice entree and crawfish etouffee, which at $18.99 is one of the higher-priced items. The dinner menu also features three salads: roasted beet salad, grilled or crispy chicken salad and buffalo chicken salad. Many of the burger and sandwich options mimic those available on the regular Valley Cafe menu, including a black and bleu burger — a "cajun-seasoned" burger with blue cheese and lettuce — and the French Dip, with thin-sliced ribeye with provolone cheese and served with homemade au jus.
B.J., who graduated from Florida State University with a degree in marketing and business management, mines his Southern roots for entrée ideas.
The shrimp and cheesy grit cakes — topped with eight Gulf shrimp and sauteed in a garlic butter cream sauce — are a dinner-size version of the Valley Cafe signature dish on its breakfast/lunch menu. That entree and the roasted chicken — topped with a house-made herbed butter sauce — were a big hit with my husband and me on a recent visit. We thought the roasted beet salad would pair nicely. It did, and there was enough left for lunch the next day.
Four beers made by Akron’s Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. are available, along with a small selection of wine. Cocktails include a Hurricane to pair with the Cajun dishes. It’s made with light and dark rum, lime, orange and passion fruit grenadine.
Dinner hours are 5-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 330-331-7555.
Good for downtown
“We were ecstatic to learn they had added dinner,” said Adrianne Krauss, executive director of the Main Street Wadsworth nonprofit, which seeks to boost the downtown in the city with a estimated 2018 population of nearly 24,000. That's up about 10 percent from the 21,576 recorded for the 2010 U.S. Census. The Mikodas' earlier attempt at offering regular dinner hours in Wadsworth, featuring fancy food, didn't pan out.
Residents want more sit-down restaurants downtown, she said, and places that offer healthy options and are family friendly. The Valley Cafe is among few sit-down, full-service eateries downtown.
She predicts the Strand will be a big draw.
“How cool is that?” she said. “To pair those two things — gelato and a historic theater building.”
The Mikodas' efforts downtown “are really a reflection of what is happening downtown as a whole,” she said.
Wadsworth, which has only had a Main Street organization since 2016, is catching up with other area towns, such as Medina and Wooster, which have longtime Main Street groups that have helped to spur economic development in their downtowns, Krauss said.
Twelve new businesses have opened in Wadsworth’s downtown in the past three years, she noted, including Toasthead Micro Bakery, which specializes in breads and cookies, as well at No. 1 Chinese Restaurant.
“Downtown revitalization is a marathon, not a sprint," she said. “All of these downtown projects contribute to comprehensive downtown revitalization.”
Reach Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com. Follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.