Best new business


Yasmeen Matthews

Freshman photography major Abigail Burkhardt orders at Cleveland Bagel Cafe March 15. Cleveland Bagel Cafe is located at 436 E. Main St.

Isabella Schreck, Editor-in-Chief

FIRST: The Cleveland Bagel Cafe

Decades ago, people went to Brady’s Cafe. Recent graduates remember the old Starbucks. Now, students study, go on dates and stop for a bagel at the cottage on the corner of Lincoln and Main streets. 

Cleveland Bagel Cafe, with its bagels, homemade schmears and espresso bar, opened Sept. 6 in the nearly 100-year-old building. The architecture of the spot remains the same, featuring seating on the first floor and on the balcony level, with some personalized murals.

“The community loves that we’re here because this building has so much history to it,” said Charlotte Varney, general manager and business partner. “There’ve been so many really great businesses in it. I think everybody is happy that we’re here, that we’re not a big corporate company, that we’re small town.”

Cleveland Bagel Cafe is an extension of Cleveland Bagel Co., which has two city locations. Kent’s bagel stop has 13 sandwiches compared to the company’s 5. The other locations also do not have an espresso bar. 

The cafe does sell all of the company’s vegan bagels, like cinnamon cranberry, sesame seed and rosemary sea salt, and all of its “schmears,” or spreads, such as chorizo chipotle and brie honey walnut. For around St. Patrick’s Day, a reuben schmear and sandwich was a seasonal option.  

Sandwich and specialty combinations include pizza bagels, avocado toast and turkey-apple-brie. Customers can choose from the seven bagel options when ordering sandwiches and bagels with schmears. 

The cafe’s other business partners are Mike Beder, Nicole Awad and Evan Bailey. Awad and Beder separately own or are business partners for other Kent-area businesses. Bailey is a professor in the School of Media and Journalism at Kent State. 

Varney, who graduated from Kent State in 2011, previously owned and managed Tree City Coffee & Pastry off E. Erie Street. She called her business partner team her “second family.”  

“I love coming in the morning,” Varney said. “No matter where I’ve worked, I always felt like my team became a second family to me. I just want to be here every day. I want to know my customers. And I want to know my staff. So I absolutely love it.”

North Water Street resident Hope Elsass, who usually gets an everything bagel with plain schmear, said the cafe’s bagels are consistently good. She comes to Cleveland Bagel about three to four times a week.   

“Their bagels are just so good, such good quality,” Elsass said. “I never went to the Starbucks before, but when Cleveland Bagel came here, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go there all the time now. It’s just like a cool place. I love the outside of it – how it looks kind of cottage core.”

The main company sends Varney and her team batches of par-baked bagels, which they finish baking every morning. 

Varney said Cleveland Bagel Cafe originally planned for a soft opening in September, but when they decided to make their opening more public, the line of customers was out the door for the rest of the week. 

“I had never opened a business before, I’d never come in from the start, so it was really cool,” Varney said. “I felt like this was my second home all summer and spring, and then I was opening up our doors, my doors, to the public. I’ll never forget that feeling of just bringing people into my home.”

Now, around 150 customers come in every weekday and around 300 stop in each day of the weekend, Varney said. 

Anastasia Rokas, a senior at Avon High School, visited Cleveland Bagel Café with her mother after a Kent State campus tour March 7. She said she would add her salmon sandwich and green tea to the “pros” section of her college decision list. 

“It’s very good, I would definitely come here again,” she said. “It’s very laid back here, and it’s very cute.”

With the bagel shop a short walking distance from campus, freshman paralegal studies major Chyanne Ford found Cleveland Bagel’s options to be a good alternative to breakfast at the dining halls. 

Ford said she stops by once a week, weather permitting, either early in the day or before she takes an exam. She usually orders an egg and cheese bagel sandwich and a hot plain latte.

“It’s good to eat, and it’s really pretty there because it’s an old Tudor-style building,” Ford said. “The balcony is so cool, and it makes you feel like you’re in a bigger city. It’s a good place to study in the morning before people get there.” 

Cleveland Bagel Café does accept FlashCash, so students can pay for items using preloaded money on their FLASHCard student ID. 

Ford also mentioned the importance of supporting local businesses, saying that they provide jobs to Kent State students and many other people in the community.    

Downtown Kent, and surrounding areas, are made up of dozens of local businesses. Varney said the community would not be the same without its small businesses.   

“I feel like Kent really thrives with that,” she said. “As a business owner, but even before that, I would always try to shop local, and I feel like most of the communities like that, to not the you know, we don’t go to Chipotle or Dunkin Donuts, but we really want our community to thrive – and that community is our business owners, too.”

SECOND: Rocco’s Cupcake Café

While co-owning the business with her grandfather, working with her mother and receiving help from other family members throughout the week, Michela Rocco said her specialty cupcake shop is “genuinely a family business.”

“Everybody’s in on it, so it’s really fun,” Rocco said. “A lot of other bakeries in the area do cakes and cupcakes and other goods, but we do cupcakes – that’s our specialty. We’re always bringing in new, different, innovative flavors. We have a whole list of ones we want to try out.”

Rocco’s Cupcake Café, which was about two years in the making, opened Feb. 4 at 295 S. Water Street. The new sweet spot sold out within two hours at its “whirlwind” grand opening – and it sold out the next day, too. 

occo’s Cupcake Café offers both cupcakes and coffee to customers. Rocco’s Cupcake Café was nominated as one of the winners for multiple categories of Best of Kent and is located at 295 S. Water St. (Matthew Brown)

The shop sells a variety of freshly-baked cupcakes, all for $3.50 each, and features recipes such as cosmic brownie or french toast as its “Cupcake of the Day.” Rocco’s Cupcake Café also has cake pops and Dirty Girl coffee, a woman-owned roastery out of Columbus. 

Rocco said the community’s reaction to their new store has been incredible.  

“Every single day we see new people, and it’s really cool because we also get regulars,” Rocco said. “Everyday more customers are coming back, and it’s been really cool to get that support from the community.”

Customers can get work done at the high-top table along the wall or sit with friends and play board games in the living-room area – all while a glass display of frosted cupcakes faces them. 

“The vibe that we have going on here makes it a place where it’s not just like you just come in, buy your coffee and leave,” Rocco said. “It’s just a really chill place –  it’s a hangout spot.” 

THIRD: Bar Lucci

For Jon Finley, everybody’s welcome at his “new age” bar off Main Street.

“We’re going to treat you with respect, kindness and try to give you something at an affordable price,” Finley said. “We take the time out to give you a handshake or ask you how your day is. You’re going to get a smile, and you’re going to get someone to talk to who genuinely does care about you.”

Bar Lucci, which Finley co-owns with his brother, Peter, features a modern bar set up with a patio, televisions and ping pong. It serves beer, liquor and custom cocktail concoctions. Finley recommended the Cherry Rye Manhattan.  

Bar Lucci is located at 257 N. Water St. (Anthony Scilla)

It opened July 8, and the brothers employ two bartenders, Scotty Ward and Stephanie Pullela – who Finley said are the best people he’s ever met. 

The bar hosts different bands and holds various monthly and weekly specials and events. 

“Everybody in town is nice, but I think our [vibe] is different. It’s a comfortable space, people feel comfortable here. The bartenders know people by name, we know them by name. 

Finley, who has co-owned Lucci’s Place off Main Street with Peter and his father for over seven years, said he always wanted a bar. Now, he feels fulfilled “beyond his wildest dreams.”

“It’s been fulfilling beyond my wildest dreams,” Finley said. “The staff who we hired – they are the best people I’ve ever met. The kids coming in, they keep me young, they teach me all the new terminology. It’s definitely everything I’ve wanted.” 

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected]