Chef Chris DiLisi and his wife Krista were pioneers. Three years ago they took a chance on a fresh start in an exciting new neighborhood rising on the banks of the Cuyahoga. With the help of their landlords at the Wolstein Group and Fairmount Properties, the DiLisis opened Willeyville, a progressive American restaurant that made everything from scratch using the best possible ingredients.
The pair quietly closed the restaurant three weeks ago.
“We put everything we had into it: mentally, emotionally, financially,” Chris DiLisi says. “I spent 20 years honing my chops and waiting for this opportunity. But you have to follow the deal. I wish we could have written a better ending. It’s sad. I’m definitely sad about it.”
“Following the deal” means taking a chance on an untested location like Flats East Bank instead of holding out for a different location in, say, Tremont or Ohio City or Chagrin Falls.
“I think we were executing on a high level,” adds the chef. “I’ve never been more proud of the food we put out, the service has been great, the ambiance, I thought, was great. I mean, we hit on every single mark. You put the restaurant in Hudson or Moreland Hills and we’re killing it, which is frustrating.”
In the three years since DiLisi opened Willeyville in the Flats, restaurants have continued to come and go. Ken Stewart’s, Crop Rocks and Crop Sticks have closed, while new spots like Bold, Coastal Taco, Alley Cat, Flip Side, Big Bang, Beerhead and Punch Bowl Social have arrived. Those spots will soon be joined by Margaritaville and Rascal Flatts.
New developments often take time to sort out, level off and find a groove. But DiLisi says that he and his wife were not prepared to weather another cold and windy winter to find out.
“That area, at least at this point, is pretty challenging,” he says. “I also feel that there’s an oversaturation of the Cleveland market. It seems that every two weeks there are four more places opening, three others going down.”