The bright, sun-filled dining room of Zhug soon will be filled with diners.
If industry watchers are looking for signs of recovery in the restaurant world, there are worse people to observe than Doug Katz. The Cleveland chef and owner famously shuttered his 20-year-old flagship eatery Fire at the outset of the pandemic because he saw the writing on the wall. Now, for the first time since March of 2020, Katz is preparing to reopen his new flagship eatery, Zhug
(12413 Cedar Rd., 216-862-2508) in Cleveland Heights, for dine-in service.
“Starting March 31st, we'll be open seven days a week," Katz says.
Katz says that the motivation to reopen came less from within than without.
“Firstly, we’re getting more and more interest from the public – especially people my parents’ age who have been fully vaccinated and are excited to get out,” he explains. “That came sooner than we had expected.”
But Katz can do little without the support and enthusiasm of his team, so he surveyed his staff to make sure everybody was on the same page, he says.
“The first thing we did was to go to our employees and ask if they felt comfortable doing this and the answer was ‘yes,’” Katz notes. “Most have already had their first shot or are scheduled for it.”
For the last year, Katz continued to serve his loyal fans by launching a pair of ghost kitchens in Cleveland Heights called Chimi
, while Zhug converted to pick-up and delivery only (with Katz handling the lion’s share of the deliveries himself). Those operations join his fast-casual stall Chutney B at Van Aken District.
To ready the space for its first diners in more than a year, Katz and crew refinished the floors, repainted the walls and pulled five tables from the dining room.
“The space looks brand new,” he adds.
As the focus shifts to dine-in service, the first casualty will be delivery service, which will end. Takeout service will continue, but it might be limited in ways to take added strain off the kitchen. It will be business as usual at Amba and Chimi from Wednesday through Saturday nights.
For Katz, who endured as challenging a year as any in the business, the developments could not have come sooner.
“Last night, we were just standing in the dining room and to feel that we’re getting back to sort of a normalcy and what you got into this business for, and not just this warehouse restaurant that no one can come into and is just for storing your take-out containers, it’s exciting,” he says.
The question now for Katz and those like him who have launched ghost kitchens is what does the future hold for those types of businesses.
“It will be interesting to see what happens,” he says. “Now we’re sort of going in the opposite direction. I’m worried that so many people will want to go out that the take-out/delivery option slows down to the point that it makes it harder to run that side of it.”