Michael Schwartz proved he’s not afraid of taking a risk.
He opened his restaurant Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink when the Design District looked much like early Wynwood — derelict but with developers moving in. It has now been open 12 years, honored as one of the best in the country by Esquire and The New York Times, and Schwartz has been cited by the James Beard Foundation.
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Now he’s ready to take another risk. In Cleveland.
Schwartz will open a second Michael’s Genuine in the Van Aken District in historic Shaker Heights, a neighborhood nine miles outside downtown Cleveland hoping to attract younger residents. The Van Aken District is a mixed-use project meant to modernize a dated mall and help create a true downtown feel. Schwarz’s restaurant is part of that plan.
“We saw the potential for much more. It’s a neighborhood and a project that we felt we had a lot in common with,” Schwartz said.
One of Schwartz’s close friends, the chef Jonathon Sawyer, has been working with the developer to shape the neighborhood with interesting local and out-of-town restaurants. Sawyer immediately thought of Schwartz, who initially thought he’d open one of his rebranded Genuine Pizza shops. But he saw an opportunity to do more with a full restaurant.
He knows he’s gambling by trying to replicate a restaurant that quite literally has his name on it. But it’s not his first attempt. Schwartz opened a Michael’s Genuine in Grand Cayman for five years, and he deemed that project a success.
“It taught us a lot about how to take the brand on the road,” he said. “It’s a lot easier now to take what we’ve done and translate it to other markets.”
Schwartz is relying on two close chef friends, both Cleveland natives, for guidance.
Sawyer, winner of the 2015 James Beard award for best chef in the Great Lakes region, is well-known throughout the food world for bringing the spirit of locally sourced, seasonal cooking to his hometown. And the chef Michael Symon, co-host of ABC’s “The Chef,” another James Beard Great Lakes winner and close Schwartz friend, has several restaurants around the country, including his hometown award-winning Lola Bistro.
Both share Schwartz’s spirit of using local ingredients and changing the menu with the season, something Schwartz was among the first to do in Miami.
“The style of cooking we create will translate anywhere, I think,” he said.
Most of the new restaurants in the Van Aken district, including a coffee roaster, brewery, juice bar and sandwich shop, will open this winter. Michael’s Genuine, as well as a new Sawyer restaurant, is slated to open in April of 2019.