(Orientation Issue) Downtown Kent sees closure, opening of businesses

Cameron Gorman

A city like Kent is constantly transforming, with the scenery shifting with construction, the opening of new businesses and the closing of old ones. As exciting as it can be to have the opportunity to try out a new shop or walk into a brand new restaurant, it can be just as bittersweet to say goodbye to an old favorite. Here a just a few of the changes in the landscape of downtown Kent over the last few months:

Peace, Love and Little Donuts

Peace, Love and Little Donuts, a psychedelic, ‘70s-themed donut shop opened the doors to its downtown Kent store this past spring. Kent joins a growing list of Pennsylvania and Ohio locations for the gourmet donut shop, such as Hartville, Cleveland and Hudson, and has already experienced a storm of community interest.

“You see a lot of peace signs, a lot of ‘70s vibe just from the history of Kent,” said Ann Young, area manager of the chain’s Kent and Hartville locations. “I think it’s a perfect fit.”

Located next to GracyLane on Erie Street, the shop offers a wide variety of miniature donuts. The treats are made and topped daily, right in front of the customer. A glass-fronted toppings bar allows patrons to watch the tie dye-clad employees prepare the food, and to follow the journey of their dessert from fryer to frosting.

“The level of excitement just from little kids up to older people … is fantastic,” Young said. “They’re just so happy. They come in and they’re like, ‘I don’t know what to choose,’ you know, overwhelmed, and we’re like, ‘It’s okay, you can’t make a bad choice.’”

There are three categories of donuts offered: “Groovy” donuts with only classic toppings such as powdered sugar, honey or glaze; “Far Out” donuts with frostings such as mocha, vanilla, lemonade and strawberry; and “Funkadelic” donuts with both toppings and frostings that can create interesting combinations such as maple bacon, s’mores and apple pie.

“Our shop is very unique because we make our donuts fresh, all day, every day,” Young said. “It’s just about the great product and customer service. Just being friendly and open …  people don’t get that nowadays. You go to a store and people barely look at you when they wait on you. We just want to be very friendly and fun.”

Dr. V & G’s Sauce Shack

The shop, which carries a range of hot sauces, opened in April under the ownership of Kent State professorsAnthony Vander Horst and Greg Gibson—the two doctorate-earners for which it’s named.

Its conception in Kent stemmed from another Sauce Shack in Florida, which still operates today, that Horst visited.

“(Horst) comes up with these great ideas and I usually say no on my end to participate,” Gibson said. “(But) on this one, I couldn’t hold back.”

To Gibson, Kent has been the perfect home for the second Sauce Shack establishment.

“Having started this business … I’m now considering moving to Kent, because it’s a wonderful community. It’s given back to me, too,” Gibson said. “All the people there are extremely friendly. They’ve embraced us. We feel like we belong.”

Before its founding, Gibson wasn’t always a sauce fan.

“I’m used to eating very plain meals,” he said. “I used to have a bottle of Tabasco sauce and a bottle of Frank’s hot sauce in my refrigerator in a tray that used to clank as you opened it—now it’s full, and other bottles are waiting to enter.”

The variety of sauces at the Shack vary not only in spiciness and flavor, but also in origin.

“We have hot sauces from all over the world,” Gibson said. “Belize, Costa Rica—and they all have these stories. One of them, Irazu, the peppers are grown in volcanic soil, so they have a very distinct flavor.”

Franklin Hotel Bar

The Franklin Hotel, now known as Acorn Corner, is a historic building in downtown Kent. Built in 1919, the Franklin Hotel Building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013, and has a long and storied place in Kent’s history. The building was a hotel up until the ‘70s when it became student housing for Kent State. In 1979, the upper floors were condemned, and despite being home to a few small businesses in the ‘90s, the building was almost destroyed multiple times.

In 2011, developer Ron Burbick purchased the building, renaming it “Acorn Corner” to compliment his Acorn Alley properties and saving it from demolition. Soon, the newly refurbished building was home to apartments, a Buffalo Wild Wings and the Secret Cellar—a jazz and wine bar in the basement. The Secret Cellar, unfortunately, closed earlier this year. For a time, it appeared that once again, the basement of the Franklin Hotel would become empty.

The spirit of development, however, quickly reversed this notion. The basement of the old Franklin Hotel will soon become the Franklin Hotel Bar.

“​I saw a need for a quieter space in Kent that’s main function was still as a bar, not a restaurant, but had a food component to it, with great cocktails and an extensive wine list,” said Michael Beder, Franklin Hotel Bar co-owner.

Beder, who owns Kent businesses Water Street Tavern, Tree City Coffee and the Venice Cafe, partnered with Ron Burbick and Mike Awad, owner of the Kent restaurant Laziza, The Overlook and the Main Street Continental Grill, to make the bar a reality.

In the spirit of the historically-recognized building, the bar will feature an older, vintage-style look.

“A lot of the aesthetics like Edison bulb lighting, a fireplace, soft seating areas with wingback chairs, handcrafted woodwork, oversized booths and more are all ​representative looks from the Franklin Hotel’s original look,” Beder said.

According to Beder, work on the new location is underway, and it is hoped that the bar will be open in about four to six weeks.

“Students will of course be welcome, but I envision it as more of a date spot or for groups of upperclassmen before they hit the more traditionally college and party-oriented bars,” Beder said.​ “Those bars are great, but there’s enough of them. We won’t be featuring any live entertainment, and (will) view it as a quiet place for people to relax and be served while enjoying the company of who they came with.”

Robin’s Nest

Previously located at 128 N. Water St. in downtown Kent, the Robin’s Nest was a breakfast, burger and brunch restaurant with (according to Yelp reviews) locally preferred pancakes. Unfortunately, as of July 15, the Robin’s Nest has permanently closed.

That hasn’t stopped previous co-owner and cook Robin Hatcher, though. Despite the closure of her restaurant, she has continued to do what she loves: cook for others.

“It’s my passion; I just like making people happy with my food,” Hatcher said. “To know that someone really enjoys it, and it puts a smile on their face, even if it’s just, like, a blueberry pancake … it just makes me happy.”

Hatcher now works at the Rise and Shine Cafe, another breakfast restaurant in Kent, located at 135 E. Erie St., right next to Tree City Coffee.

“It is a nice transition. It’s kind of like the same thing that I did (at Robin’s Nest), so it’s like I just came here and continued to make pancakes and eggs,” Hatcher said. “On the weekends a lot of people have started coming here that just came to my place.”

Hometown Bank, which owns the location of what was Robin’s Nest, is expanding its mortgage department to the building, and—as a result—asked Hatcher to move her business or exit the building.

“Small businesses are like the heartbeat of America, that’s what makes it go around,” Hatcher said. “We went out as winners … we were doing really well. They loved us … they loved it.”

Although Robin’s Nest is no longer a breakfast option for diners in Kent, Hatcher’s cooking is still available at Rise and Shine.

“It’s great, and the people are great,” Hatcher said. “(The Rise and Shine owner) was my competitor; now she’s (my friend).”

Stone Tavern Closing

Stone Tavern was a record store, bar and live music venue on East Main Street. But many locals might say that its lore and intrigue ran far deeper than its surface or description. Since its closure in early July, there has been an outpouring of emotion on social media about the loss of the venue. Fellow bar Zephyr Pub even tweeted out, “We love you, @StoneTavernKent.”

Stone Tavern, and venues like it, are held especially dear to the hearts of local bands like The Moxie Collect, who played at this year’s annual Heritage Festival, and got their start at the tavern itself.

“You know, the whole Stone Tavern closing thing, I mean that’s Kent’s scene,” said Mark Oprea, the band’s singer and guitarist. “I believe that … bands are influenced by the people they hang out with and the people they listen to. When you take that outlet away, there’s nowhere else to really go.”

Like any city, though, the life cycle of businesses often mirrors that of life—they come and go, making way for new growth in their wake.

“It’s definitely changing,” said keyboardist Joe Boyle. “I think where there’s a will, there’s a way, and people are still playing music, but, people are going to have to figure out where.