Brittany Moseley

Three unique possibilities in one of Cleveland’s most unique districts

Tommy Fello said he went through the school of hard knocks.

Tommy’s 1834 Coventry Road Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 216.321.7757

After buying a restaurant at age 18, losing his lease five years later, being wiped out by fires three times and switching locations, Fello, Tommy’s owner, is now a graduate of the school of hard knocks.

“I made a whole lot of mistakes, but the neighborhood really watched out for me,” Fello said.

Fello worked for years as a soda jerk at a Coventry drug store, but soon realized it wasn’t how he was going to make his living. When his boss decided to sell the store, Fello bought it and turned it into Tommy’s in 1972.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I liked what I was doing,” he said. “I was very lucky to find something I enjoyed doing at a very young age.”

The first of three fires happened in 1975 and wiped out the restaurant. Fello lost his lease two years later. As he was preparing to open the new location in 1977, a store near the restaurant caught fire, as did Tommy’s. The last fire, in 1988, destroyed the dining room. The restaurant stayed in a temporary location until 1991, but Fello and other business owners bought the building and Tommy’s is located there today.

Fello said if it wasn’t for the community, the fires would have closed Tommy’s long ago.

“The second fire should have wiped me out, but the neighborhood really rallied around me to open again,” Fello said.

Tommy’s is known for its vegetarian food, but it also offers options for meat eaters. Fello wants Tommy’s to be a place where families can go together and still try something new.

“Certain things on the menu you can only get at Tommy’s, so if they like it they’re coming back to eat.”

Tommy’s most popular items are its yogurt milkshakes, spinach pies and falafel, Fello said. The restaurant offers 124 sandwiches, all named after customers and Fello’s children.

The restaurant has gone through several “hard knocks,” and Fello said he couldn’t have succeeded without the support of the community.

“Each time I’ve lucked out, and somebody was looking out for me,” he said. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

Mac’s Backs Books has three floors of books for sale.

Mac’s Backs Books 1820 Coventry Road Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 216.321.BOOK (2665)

The social commentary, however, is free.

Besides having a book club, poetry readings and book signings, Mac’s Backs has also collaborated with political organizations. Code Pink, a national organization against the war in Iraq, has monthly meetings at the bookstore. The store also participated in a national bake sale for

Co-owner Suzanne DeGaetano doesn’t worry about people’s opinions of the organizations the store supports because she said Coventry is a “very progressive neighborhood.”

“I don’t know what it would feel like to live in an environment where you have to think about whether or not you’re going to offend people,” she said. “I just care about being true to who we are, and I feel that we reflect our community.”

Mac’s Backs didn’t start on Coventry Road. DeGaetano’s partner Jim McSherry bought the store in 1978 from the previous owner who had it in Chagrin Falls. He then moved it to Kent for a year and then moved it back to Chagrin Falls.

DeGaetano started working at Mac’s Backs in 1982. The Chagrin store was too small for all the books McSherry wanted to hold so they both decided Coventry would be a good location for the store.

“It’s very diverse, and there are all kinds of people here,” DeGaetano said. “We really like the fact that whoever you are, you feel comfortable walking around here.”

Like many small, independent hideaways, franchises have sprung up around it over the years. Still, DeGaetano said corporations aren’t the end of independent businesses.

“As long as the chains have someone who is willing to work with the community, it can be good.”

DeGaetano isn’t worried about corporate America’s effect on Coventry because she said people like stores that reflect the neighborhood they are in.

“When you’re in a different city, you want to sample a different culture,” she said. “Any independent store can have (its) own personality, and that’s what makes a neighborhood unique.”

Eddie Keeny is used to taking chances.

Grum’s sub shoppe 1776 Coventry Road Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 216.321.4781

As a former professional poker player, Keeny’s career was all about taking risks. He took another risk a year and a half ago when he bought the sandwich shop Grum’s.

“This place just kind of jumped up and smacked me in the face,” Keeny said. “I just thought it was a great opportunity, and it’s a great product.”

Keeny said he has thought about expansion if the right opportunity arises, but right now his goal is to “bring Grum to the masses.”

“(The previous owner) probably had some chances for expansion along the way, but he didn’t want to take on any new responsibilities,” Keeny said. “I’m somewhat of a young guy, and I can always use more responsibility.”

Grum’s hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1977. It’s still carry-out only, and everything is sliced in-store daily. Keeny said they use only the best, high-quality ingredients.

When it opened, Grum’s was the original sub shop on Coventry Road. Now there are several sub shops, and Keeny said he worries some people are forgetting the businesses that make this community unique.

“I kind of feel like people are forgetting about the restaurants and the shops that made Coventry what it is today,” Keeny said. “Whoever didn’t fight to keep (franchises) off the street might not be getting what Coventry is about.”

Even with the other sub shops, Keeny said the store is busier this year than last. Everyone in the area knows Grum’s, and even if residents haven’t been in the area for several years, Keeny said Grum’s is one of their first stops when they return.

“Our busiest weekend is right around Thanksgiving because everyone comes home,” Keeny said. “I can’t tell you how many people come in and say, ‘I just got off the plane and this is the first place I came.'”

Contact all reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].