A native clevelander, Maggie Schwenk recalls a time when Ohio City didn't offer much more than the West Side Market. "As a kid, my family would come to the market and we'd go immediately home after," she says. "There wasn't much in the area as far as wanting or even feeling safe hanging out here." Of course, all that has changed over the past few years, and as executive chef at Market Garden Brewery (1947 West 25th St., 216-621-4000, marketgardenbrewery.com), Schwenk and the restaurant group she works for have been instrumental in the area's rapid growth.
Schwenk says she always knew food was her calling. "I never really imagined myself doing anything else," she says. "I've been cooking since I was a kid. I guess you could say I don't have any other job skills."
Schwenk began on the corporate side of the industry, working in the kitchen at the Hyatt for six years. In time, she decided she needed a change of scenery. "Working for a corporate place, I had no idea who owned it; I never saw them nor probably ever would. I wanted to work somewhere that was more personal," she says. So she found a position as a line cook at Bar Cento, where she eventually worked her way up to sous chef. "I see Sam McNulty and the owners of these restaurants every day," she says. "They live inside the neighborhood and I know how much they care about the business and their employees."
When Market Garden opened its doors in 2011, Schwenk transitioned into the sous chef role there. Earlier this year, Schwenk was promoted to executive chef. Being one of the only females in the kitchen has never slowed her down, she says. "I can't say that I've ever noticed being treated differently. I have two little brothers, so bossing boys around is something I've done my whole life. Being inside a kitchen of men is actually easier for me than being in a room filled with girls. I've always worked hard to prove 'anything you can do, I can do too.'"
She collaborates with her kitchen staff to create a menu of what she describes as great-tasting regular food for regular people. "We're a brewery," she says. "We're not a white tablecloth, fine-dining establishment, nor do we want to be or try to be. People can come here from their construction job or an office and they should feel comfortable. Our food is approachable, but made from scratch. We try to buy as locally and seasonally as we can."
It certainly helps to have so many great resources nearby, including Market Garden's historical neighbor, the West Side Market. "It's really good to have solid relationships with vendors that are right next door. I can run over and say, 'This is what I need, can I get it now and I'll write you a check later,'" she says.
When she's not working in the kitchen, Schwenk is busy raising her son Desmond, who's already developing quite a palate at 2 . "He's funny, he'll eat the most random things. He likes hummus, greens, anything I'm eating. Then all of the normal things you'd think kids would want, he turns his nose up at," she says. "I don't take any moment I have with him for granted. We don't get much, so the time we do have I am totally focused on being together."