I did a quick u-turn on my bike after I passed this sign on Lorain Ave. near West 41st St. the other day. We are in the information gathering business, after all, with dining editor who would be interested in the apparently imminent arrival of a new restaurant in SoLo, one that would specialize in chicken tenders.
"Friendly tendies fried with love," boasted the tagline for Tendershak.
I snapped a pic and texted it to Doug Trattner and went about my merry day.
It wasn't until later that night that I zoomed in on the menu item descriptions, which I hadn't bothered to read at first glance.
"To be fair, these chicken tenders are actually just breaded in crushed-up sea salt & cracked pepper potato chips and fried in Frank's Red Hot," read the one for the Barbeque tendies. "Our chef has never had barbeque. Weird, right?"
And the one for the Crunchmeat option: "Some people double batter — we triple slather than quad batter these little puppies. Then we do it again. Yep, these actual real dogs (chicken) are slathered six times before being battered 8 times then fried in cola."
It was at this point that confusion struck. Was this some edgy, catchy branding for a real place or some high-minded concept art poking fun at restaurants with Edgy and Catchy Branding? The name of the owner listed on the poster — Chorndt Bigglestab — should have been a dead giveaway, but I still wasn't sure.
A quick Google search led to the Instagram account of Justin Will, a local designer, who twice had posted updates on his "branding" for a new local chain of Tendershak. So that didn't solve anything.
Anyway, a call to a designer pal led to a call to the current tenant at the address, Joe Kastelic, who owned and operated Play-Haus Design for seven years. It was at that point we learned that the coming soon sign had achieved its purpose to a tee, inspiring our curiosity, intrigue and an inner debate about whether it was a real business or not. With a laugh, he admitted it was fake and we'd only caught part of the installation art project, and that there was more to come.
It turns out the Tendershak sign was one of eight that graced the window over a period of two months, with each "business" being featured for a week.
That string comes to an end tonight from 5 to 11 p.m. at the storefront at 3904 Lorain Ave. with a one-night only pop-up gallery featuring all the work and more.
"I basically knew I wasn’t going to use my storefront as I finished the last semester of school," Kastelic told Scene. "I came up with the 'Coming Soon' concept because when the Ohio City BBQ guy originally leased the building across the street he put up a ton of signage that said Marco’s Pizza was coming soon. The signs were up for like 6-8 months then the guy changed his mind and opened the BBQ place instead. I thought that was pretty funny because everyone was waiting for a pizza place.
"I expanded on the concept and asked 8 of my favorite graphic designers/artists in Cleveland if they would be interested in making up a business and a grand opening sign for it. I told them the goal of the poster is to get a 'this can’t be real' reaction from people in the neighborhood. I gave some examples like a tattoo shop for pets or a strip club coffee shop.
"They all thought it was hilarious and agreed to it. A ton of people have messaged me, messaged the artists and called me and my landlord over the last few weeks asking if the signs are real (including you). I told everyone to play dumb and act like they were just doing graphic design work for a new business."
That farce is over, of course. Do stop by the gallery tonight for the special show.
The artists and their "businesses," by the way:
DeCafe - A decaf only coffee shop - Amber Esner - @amberesner
Pink Eye Cafe - A coffee enema spa - Joe Lanzilotta - @joeylanz
Ohio City Selfie - Selfie Portrait Studio - Scotty Wemmer - @scottywemmer
Forever Nest - Bird house realty company - Alex Kidd - @abkidd
Just Lettuce Cafe - A lettuce only cafe? - Tim Hayes - @timhayesdesigns
TenderShak - Chicken Tender place - Justin Michael Will - @justinmichaelwill
Metal-Tation Mondays - Heavy Metal Yoga - Anna Swiatowy - @anna.swiatowy
TBA - Michael Laudi - @volaudi
"I only provided the venue and the concept," Kastelic said. "If the artists are selling work and/or prints they are keeping 100% of the money."