Downtown Kent’s Pufferbelly makes its last sale

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Bidders gather in downtown Kent’s Pufferbelly LTD Restaurant on Franklin Avenue for an auction of more than 160 items of varying historical significance to the now-closed establishment on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016. 

Jenna Kuczkowski

The Pufferbelly LTD Restaurant in downtown Kent was packed with people one last time on Wednesday, as nearly all of its contents were auctioned off to the public.

After being open for 35 years, Kevin Long, owner of the Franklin Avenue-located restaurant, decided it was time to close up shop and retire from the restaurant business. The restaurant’s last day in service was this past New Year’s Eve.

“I haven’t made a decision yet on what my next move is going to be,” Long said. “Right now, I’m just focused on getting everything settled here with paperwork and such.”

The auction consisted of over 160 lots of goods and included everything hanging on the walls to even the booths. Among the items were antiques, collectables, railroad items, kitchen equipment, and Pufferbelly memorabilia.

“The only thing(s) I’m keeping from the restaurant (are) three pictures from the walls and lots of good memories,” Long said. “For me, if I can’t put it up somewhere I can see it, there’s no point in keeping it just to store it away somewhere.”

Just over 200 bidders registered to participate in the auction and gathered the standing room only, dining area of the Pufferbelly.

Two women in particular drove all the way from Detroit, Michigan, to attend the auction: Kate Burt-Wilson and Peggy King-Scully, members of the Louisa St. Clair Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution.

“We drove three hours to get here just to bid on one sign,” King-Scully said. “There’s a Louisa St. Clair Chapter sign hanging above the kitchen door here and we came to buy it to bring back to our chapter in Michigan.”

While both women had theories of how the sign ended up in the Pufferbelly restaurant, neither were quite sure of the history behind it. However, they were excited to take a piece of history home to their chapter where it belonged.

Another pair of bidders at the auction made off with a vintage fireman’s helmet that had been displayed in the building.

Hannah Cassetty and Jake Miterko of South Euclid came to the auction just for fun, but ended up bidding on and winning the fireman’s hat.

“I really love antiques and my parents had always talked about how much they liked Pufferbelly, so when I saw the auction was happening here, I thought ‘Why not,’” Miterko said. “I really didn’t expect to buy anything, but I’m very happy with the fireman’s hat.

The Pufferbelly restaurant was initially a railroad station built in 1875. After the station closed in 1970, it re-opened as the Pufferbelly in 1981.

The Erie Depot building, as it’s called, is now owned by the Kent Historical Society. With the restaurant space now empty, a new venue will be opened in the near future.

Mike Awad, owner of Kent’s Main Street Continental Grill, Laziza and the newly-opened Franklin Hotel Bar, plans on turning the empty building into an Italian restaurant.

“In this business, I wish everyone the best — even my competitors,” Long said. “So I wish the best to whoever comes in here next and really hope they do well.”

Long officially loses ownership of the restaurant on Sunday. He said among the things he’lls miss about the restaurant, the guests and his employees will be missed the most.

“I see some customers who come in each and every day, and you really get to know them,” Long said.  “On top of that I’ve spent years working with some of these employees. And when you’re here 24/7 like me, you get to see the good, bad, and the ugly. I know everyone (in the business) says this, but we really became a family here.”

Jenna Kuczkowski is the general assignment editor, contact her at [email protected]