Mike Beder: Kent State alumnus takes on career as downtown entrepreneur


Matthew Brown

Waterstreet Tavern is a bar located on Water Street in downtown Kent.

Addison Foreman, Reporter

When Mike Beder came to school at Kent State University, he was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life. He went into college as an exploratory major, and graduated in 2000 with a degree in general studies. During his last year and a half of college, Beder held a job as a bartender at a bar in Kent that has since closed down, Robin Hood.

“I enjoyed the business. I was good at promoting the place and getting people in the doors,” Beder said. “I think I just saw how it worked and thought, ‘I could do this.’”

In 2001, Beder bought a bar in downtown Kent, Water Street Tavern, which has now been his longest business venture.

Today, Beder is an owner/partner of several Kent businesses, including Water Street Tavern, Kent Sportswear, Cleveland Bagel Cafe, Lakehouse Kitchen & Bar, The Loft and Venice Cafe.

Customers take a seat on the windowsill of the Cleveland Bagel Company. (Berkeley Chadwick)

“I think my favorite part of entrepreneurship is the creation and starting something up and believing that this is value you’re adding to the community,” Beder said. “It was just exciting to test different theories and see different ideas come to fruition.”

Though he’s initially from out-of-state, Beder stayed in Kent after graduation to start his career because he felt he knew the market well.

“I started off with Water Street Tavern. It was a college bar and I was 23-24 at the time, so I was familiar with college bars,” Beder said. “Over time, as I got older, I was more interested in restaurants and coffee shops and things of that nature. I think what I felt I could do kind of evolved as I got older.”

Though he has branched out since he started his career, Beder still enjoys the bar business.

“Being in the bar business, you never know who’s going to walk in the doors. Just when things seem status quo there’s always something new and interesting,” Beder said.

He has also found owning bars specifically in Kent to be a rewarding experience.

“Starting as a student and looking at a place like Ray’s where alumni always went, and now seeing a generation of students who came to Kent, and Water Street or Loft was their bar,” Beder said, “that’s where they come back to now for homecoming or when they come back to visit or catch up with friends. It’s been very rewarding to see us become a part of the community.”

Beder said the college off-season does not affect his businesses.

Mike Beder is an owner/partner of several Kent businesses. (Courtesy of Roger Hoover)

“I don’t feel it’s any different than if someone’s in a beach town, or even in a city like Cleveland. There’s seasonality to all of it,” Beder said.

Many of the small-business owners in downtown Kent know each other and have been very helpful to one another. Beder was introduced to Charlie Thomas, owner of the bar Ray’s Place, soon after he graduated because of his interest in starting a bar. Thomas gave him valuable insight on his experience.

“He let me pick his brain for a couple hours, which was really awesome. I try to remember that someone gave me that experience, so I try to pay it forward,” Beder said.

Beder has continued to interact with Kent State University post-graduation. For the past 10 years, he has been a resident entrepreneur for the entrepreneur program at the school. In this position, Beder acts as a resource for students in the program, helping them set milestones for their businesses and giving advice based on his real life experiences. He also goes to several classes a year to listen and give feedback on students’ business presentations.

Beder enjoys giving back to the community in Kent. He serves as a co-director for Crooked River Arts Festivals, which hosts yearly events such as Kent Beatlefest and Kent Blues Fest.

Hard Day’s Night at the Kent Stage for the 9th annual Beatlefest Feb 17th 2023. (Annemarie Karabinus)

“I like being involved and creating opportunities for the community,” he said.

In this position, Beder mainly deals with digital advertising and overseeing booking and scheduling for these events.

Beder also acts on the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Kent Board of Directors, The Portager Board of Directors and the KSU Hospitality Management Board.

He even helps to manage a local comedian, Mike Polk Jr., who he has been close friends with since they went to college together at Kent State.

Outside of his busy career, Beder spends most of his free time with his family. He is married to his wife, Lucy, and has two young children, Sonny and Olive.

Beder encourages students at Kent State who are interested in entrepreneurship to start their business ventures now.

“Now’s the time to do it. You can always do it, but now’s a great time when you don’t have any assets for people to come after if you fail too bad. It’s a great learning experience,” he said.

“It’s a lifestyle I’ve really enjoyed. It’s all about being happy, and if entrepreneurship or creating something in that regard makes you happy, then it’s a great lifestyle.”

Addison Foreman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]