Ramella Pizzeria, Mugs sees its last light, prepares for new six-story building


Ramella’s Pizzeria is set for destruction as the City of Kent proposed a six-story, multi-use building. The proposition was approved on Feb. 20.

Dylan Reynolds

There is a vacant brick building on the corner of West Erie Street and Franklin Avenue in downtown Kent.

On the side facing Erie, a green awning hangs from the facade advertising “Ramella’s Pizzeria: World Famous Italian Pizza and Zarolli.” The interior is mostly empty, except for a few cleaning supplies and decorations from when the restaurant was operational.

The side facing Franklin Avenue is equally bare. Behind tall windows sits an unstocked, unattended bar littered with pizza boxes. That space, most recently called Ramella’s Lounge, was once Mugs Brew Pub. Out front, a yard sign is knocked over in the grass.

“Official notice: City of Kent, Ohio,” it says. “Planning commission is considering a proposal involving this property.”

That proposal is a six-story, multi-use building, which the Planning Commission approved at its Feb. 20 meeting. To build the new structure, the old brick building would be demolished.

Although it may not look like much today, the corner of West Erie Street and Franklin Avenue has seen numerous businesses come and go through many decades of Kent history.

Records from the Portage County Auditor’s website show the property is now owned by Tulips LLC, incorporated by Badreeyeh Alhasawi, who purchased the property after a series of transactions from Portage Community Bank. Portage Community Bank foreclosed on the the building after Pub Properties, LLC, incorporated by Vincent Fazio Jr., defaulted on the mortgage, according to court documents.

Fazio has not responded to a request for an interview.

The Record-Courier reported Tulips LLC’s proposal is a 26,000-square-foot structure expected to contain a restaurant, bakery and wine bar at the bottom, and 16 upscale apartments above.

Those high-class establishments are a longshot from Mugs, the bar that faced Franklin Avenue in the early 2000s. This was the stomping grounds for musician and Kent alumnus Patrick Sweany, a blues rocker who has released multiple studio albums.

“It was a cool hangout,” Sweany said. “It was a really cool scene.”

At that time, Sweany was in a band with Dan Auerbach, who became the guitarist and vocalist for the Black Keys.

“(Auerbach) came out to a gig, and I heard he could play,” Sweany said. “And I invited him up, and he eventually joined the band.”

During the time Auerbach was in the Patrick Sweany Band, the group routinely performed at Mugs. Sweany had Mondays and Tuesdays off at his day job, allowing the band to play weeknights, when they were often the only show in town.

“That was a weekly thing,” Sweany said. “We played every Monday night. We played late. There was just nothing else to do.”

But in the middle of the 20th century, long before Mugs existed, the building was home to Kent Office Supply, a store owned by Richard and Luella Blair.

“This was a mom and pop store,” said Bill Blair, son of the owners. “If you needed it in the office for business, — pencils, pens, ink, paper, adding machines, typewriters ­— … we had it.”

Blair remembers hanging around the business and helping his parents run the shop.

“Even as a kid, as a teenager, my brother and I, if we were down there, we’d wait on customers,” Blair said. “We’d answer the phones. It was all very much hands-on.”

Above the shop was an apartment, which Blair’s parents decided to upgrade when they bought the building. At the time, the apartment only had a “water closet” — a toilet without a bath or shower. The Blairs installed a shower, but they placed it in an unconventional room.

“There are two separate kitchens, and one of the kitchens had a shower in it,” said Elizabeth Lax, a senior studio arts major, who rented the unit in 2016 from Fazio.

Lax said the building had some issues while she lived there. She said nobody had occupied the place for some time and that the apartment’s pipes burst multiple times during her seven-month stay.

“They could have been working with that building and not let it kind of crumble,” Lax said. “But they did let it crumble, and there’s really no saving it.”

Sweany said he visited Mugs regularly even after his band stopped playing there. But Blair, who now lives in California, hasn’t been inside the building since the late 1990s.

“Every once in a while when I was downtown, I wanted to stop in and just say hi to whoever was there and tell them a little about the building, but I just never really had time,” Blair said.

Although he said he doesn’t deserve an opinion on Kent-based issues because he moved away, Blair becomes sentimental thinking about the building’s likely fate.

“I’m sad to see another building of history, a piece of Kent history, going by the wayside,” Blair said. “However, in modern days, buildings weren’t meant to last forever.”

Dylan Reynolds is a feature writer. Contact him at [email protected].