After six months in business, Doug Katz made the agonizing decision to completely retool his Cleveland Heights restaurant. This week, the Katz Club Diner unveiled its new menu, which has almost nothing in common with the one diners have gotten cozy with since opening day.
"It's an incredibly hard thing to do to open a new restaurant and six months later take a good look at and change it all over again," Katz admits. "We originally did this to help with our catering business, but what we found was that the diner was overtaking the kitchen."
The miscalculation can be chalked up to a bit of hubris, notes the chef. "I thought, How hard can it be to make diner food like tuna salad, egg salad, roast turkey and roast beef from scratch using local ingredients? I think we took on way too much."
It was too much largely because it was all for an eight-table restaurant, explains Katz. There was no cross-utilization of all these time-intensive products and ingredients between the diner and Fire. And where was all that hard work getting them?
"We had customers coming and wanting a $2.99 breakfast and we had people coming in and expecting Fire — and we were underwhelming all of them because they weren't getting what we were doing with local food."
So Katz decided to pull the trigger and completely refocus the restaurant. He looked to his popular weekend brunch at Fire for inspiration and direction. "We lost focus on what we do well, like Fire brunch."
The "new" Katz Club Diner is not Fire 2, but rather an upscale diner that adheres to the "Fire mentality," while not simply importing dishes, says the chef. Most importantly, the new menu allows Katz to not reinvent the wheel for every single menu item. "There are a lot more ways to cross-utilize products and ingredients we use at Fire without duplicating the dish so that we can make the diner successful."
The new menu features a mix of breakfast, pastries, soups, sandwiches and comfort foods — all of which are available from open to close. Apart from a handful of keepers — think eggplant Reuben, chicken ala king, Katz club — the menu is chock full of new dishes, including many vegan items. For breakfast, there's a hot cereal with ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth and millet served with almond milk. Shakshuka is an Israeli-themed dish of eggs baked in a smoky tomato sauce served with Greek yogurt and garlic toast. Shortrib chilaquiles features soft scrambled eggs, black beans and salsa verde on housemade corn tortillas. A vegan benne patty is topped with arugula, avocado, pickled chiles and whipped tofu.
"I don't think any item on this menu can be found anywhere else in Cleveland or beyond — including Fire," Katz notes.
One thing that isn't broken, asserts Katz, is the location. "There has never been a lack of interest or support from community."
To better handle all facets of both the restaurant and catering businesses, the diner is now closed on both Mondays and Tuesdays instead of just Monday.
"Though this has been one of the hardest experiences of my life, it's also been one of the best learning experiences of my life," says Katz. "We've all learned so much and we are all so much closer for it and more passionate about what we're doing. And we know that this is where we should have been all along and we got here."