For nearly 20 years, Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine has been a pre- and post-movie tradition on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. Just steps from the Cedar Lee Theatre, the restaurant has served as an anchor for the robust dining scene along the well-traveled avenue. That tradition ended abruptly this week when the operators packed up, moved out and locked the doors behind them.
And while this might sound like another bit of bad news in a string of bad news for the neighborhood, the opposite appears to be true. Following a bankruptcy proceeding in Federal Court, the building that housed Lemon Grass (2177 Lee Rd.) recently was purchased by local business owner Yashar Yildirim, who owns the nearby Anatolia Café
(2270 Lee Rd.) and the building it resides in. He purchased and renovated that building back in 2008 when he was pushed out of Cedar Center.
The truth is that Lemon Grass has struggled for years, changing ownership and drawing weak crowds. At 5,700 square feet, the main floor property is too big for a middling Thai restaurant. Yildirim sees that space as a wonderful opportunity to propel the neighborhood forward. But not by his own hands, and, he hopes, not at the hands of a chain operator.
Instead, Yildirim is seeking proposals from local chefs who think they can bring something special to the street.
“I just bought the building; I have no specific plans for it,” he says. “I just want to invest in the neighborhood. I want one of our local chefs to come up with a good proposal. I will work with anyone.”
The commercial property is the third in the neighborhood that Yildirim owns. Surrounded by 47,000 residents who passionately support local establishments, that parcel should be in high demand, he believes.
“I love this street. I made my life here,” he says. “I think we have a great community that just needs a little polish.”