By his own account, Adam Gidlow is a prudent, patient man. When he opened On the Rise bakery in Cleveland Heights 14 years ago, he did so only after thoroughly vetting other potential neighborhoods. The new shopkeeper didn't even attempt to pursue wholesale restaurant accounts until his retail business was soundly in place. And it would be another decade before he and his crew branched out into the savory world of lunchtime sandwiches.
The next move for Gidlow will be his boldest yet: taking over the adjacent space, adding a full kitchen and introducing an expanded menu and dine-in seating.
"When it comes to business decisions I'm extremely conservative," Gidlow explains. "I want to make sure that something is going to work, and the sandwiches are definitely working."
Even in the case of the sandwiches Gidlow proceeded with extreme caution. In the beginning, only three or four options were trotted out one weekend per month. Early success convinced the bakery to expand lunch service to every weekend. After tacking on another day here and another day there, they reached the point where they are today, selling nearly a dozen different sandwiches six days a week.
Driving much of that internal growth has been Brian Evans, a young chef who came to On the Rise five years ago to pursue a path in baking. After stints at Fire Food and Drink and Parallax, Evans sought out Gidlow to supply the next phase of his culinary development.
"I started out in the culinary field, not so much in the baking field," Evans says. "But I fell in love with baking and I wanted to further my skills. I knew I needed guidance, and everybody I spoke to said Adam was the guy."
Once he got his sea legs, Evans started looking for his next opportunity. It turned out it was right there all along. He approached his boss about the possibility of adding lunch service; given the nature of the bakery business, it made perfect sense.
"In our business we're super busy in the morning and then we slow down," he says. "I'm always looking for somewhere to grab a quick lunch — and we already had all this great bread."
Though they're built on bread, calling them sandwiches does them a bit of a disservice. Take the banh mi, for example, one of the most Instagrammed meals in Cleveland when it debuted. Evans starts with pork from New Creation farms, a relationship he cultivated during his days working with Doug Katz at Fire. The pork is marinated overnight, roasted, and then braised. The braising liquid is cooked down to a glaze, which is folded back into the meat.
"We try and cram as much flavor into the preparation of a dish as we can," says Evans.
Nothing that goes between the bread is outsourced. Evans makes his own burrata and mozzarella cheeses, roasts and corns grass-fed beef from Miller Farms, confits local duck, pickles and ferments vegetables, even grinds his own peanut butter for the PBNJ.
Following the construction, guests can expect a completely renovated interior that encompasses both spaces. The wall between On the Rise and the space that formerly housed Fairmount Letters will be removed, making way for an expanded retail section to the left and small dining room with open kitchen to the right. In all, the cafe will seat approximately 25 diners at tables and a chef's counter.
All care is being taken to maintain the look and feel of a European-style artisanal bakery, says Gidlow, while ensuring that the expanded food service operations don't interfere with the ever-important morning rush.
"We're a bakery first — it's who we are and it's what we do best," he says. "We don't want to mess with the flow of customers coming in and out, especially on weekends."
As for the food, Evans will be scaling back the sandwiches to make room for small plates built around seasonal ingredients that blend artisanal baking with savory flavors. Neighbors can look forward to an expanded lunch service and weekend breakfast/brunch service. Other than the occasional prix fixe dinner, On the Rise will maintain its current hours of operation.
"We have a very talented and very motivated crew here, and everybody is super interested in food," explains Evans, who recently brought on board chef Mark Osgood. "We wanted to take the next step in the progression with the food we're doing."
For Evans, who just as easily could have taken his budding culinary talents to a more traditional restaurant setting, the journey is as fulfilling as the destination.
"Being able to help build something and start from the ground up is something I've always been passionate about," he says. "That was what excited me most about this."