Like many restaurateurs, the onset of the pandemic gave former Cha Spirits and Pizza Kitchen owner Susan Walters pause. “I was like ‘I’m not doing this again, there’s no way I’m opening another restaurant,” the serial entrepreneur said. But this summer, Walters’ third Cha will open in a 4,300-square-foot, renovated Victorian just south of Ohio City’s Fulton-Lorain intersection under the name “Cha at Tinnerman.”
Walters hopes the new store’s appeal and many of its regulars will come from the Tinnerman Lofts, a 51-unit luxury apartment complex that opened in 2020 at the historic Tinnerman Steel Range Co. building. Andrew Iarussi, senior vice president of development at Tinnerman property manager The Dalad Group and Walters’ new landlord, said Cha is poised to “engage with the neighborhood in an entirely new and inviting way.”
Expect art events, a refined interior and a selection of pizza, tapas and wine. Unlike the ovens that cook Cha’s pizza, however, the latest store’s opening is not set in stone. Walters said Dalad’s contractors have more work to do with the city and on the building before she can begin feeding her neighbors in Ohio City.
After a roughly one-year delay, opening is on the horizon and up to 90 guests at a time will finally be able to see what Walters envisions for her third outing.
Setting the table
Walters has lived in the neighborhood since 1987 and she described the new restaurant at 2048 Fulton Rd. as “loungey.” She said it would take into account lessons learned from Cha’s two previous locations about size requirements and what matters to guests.
The initial Battery Park Cha location closed in August of 2017 after spending three years in business, causing the business owner to shift her eyes west to Ohio City, where she opened her first restaurant, KeKa, back in 1995.
In late 2017, Walters reopened Cha Spirits and Pizza Kitchen at 3800 Whitman Ave., where she was open for less than a year before shuttering in September of 2018. “Battery Park was big. It was almost impossible to manage. So I moved up to Whitman, and that was small, 40 seats. Very cute, very quaint, probably more like me,” said Walters.
But the second spot was too crowded to host music events like bongo brunch and jazz nights, both of which will make a return at Cha at Tinnerman.
Walters said she was ready to launch Cha at Tinnerman in May of 2021, a year after Dalad offered her the Fulton property, but delays and 30-40% increases in material prices shattered that timeline. To help foot the bill for a handful of capital improvement projects, Walters has created a Kickstarter campaign asking community members to funnel $22,000 into the venue.
“It’s just to push us over the top on a few small projects, instead of me spending $15,000 on one thing,” she added. “It’s been a lot of juggling with the basis of delivery and supply chain.”
Supporters of the Kickstarter campaign are eligible for stretch goals including a bocce brunch for those willing to pay $2,500 while $1,000 nets contributors a guided tour of the Tinnerman property. But, as Cha pointed out last month on its Facebook page, Kickstarter uses an “all-or-nothing” funding model: if projects don’t raise their full amount, organizers won’t see a cent. Cha’s collection basket has under $1,500 of its $22,000 goal with about 20 days remaining.
The new site straddles the two previous Cha locations in terms of footprint, allowing her to host art events and, Walters hopes, launch a summer camp to teach kids culinary skills through pizza-making.
“The whole point of it is to teach [kids] math and science, architecture, physics,” she explained. Walters will invite volunteers from the community to break down every step of the pizza process into a learning opportunity.
Ideally, she wants to hold a fundraiser that would make the program self-sustaining with scholarships allowing between eight and 10 participants to attend for free over the course of six to eight weeks each summer.
“[Campers] will come and they’ll build their own boxes, their own raised beds,” Walters said. “Over a period of time, they will grow their own things. You will grow tomatoes, I’ll grow basil, somebody else will grow something else and then we’ll learn commerce. So now we buy from each other. And they’ll have to learn how to balance a checkbook and do all of that stuff.”
The concept would not have been possible at Cha’s Whitman location.
So what does the new Cha look like?
Upon entering Cha at Tinnerman, guests will first find themselves at the base of a wraparound staircase with a bar and about 20 chairs in a separate room to the left. The steps take diners to the second floor, where four rooms have been removed to make way for what will eventually be 50 chairs and tables to match. Another 10 seats will join a chef’s table on the back patio.
Iarussi from Dalad said the company always intended to keep the renovated Victorian-style as part of its plan for the lofts. With Walters and her previous locations in mind, the development company reached out to her in 2020 after it had restored the house’s original siding, front porch and other Victorian details.
“The character of [it] seemed to fit perfectly with her vision for Cha,” he explained.
Walters is also hoping Cha will fit into the fabric of Ohio City, which isn’t light on pizza options. Less than three blocks away is Ohio City Pizzeria with its gas-fired pies, while Cha cooks its pies on stones. Cent’s Pizza opened roughly half a mile from the Tinnerman site in August of 2021, but Walters said the Fulton space has more outdoor seating.
When envisioning the community response to the Victorian-style location after it is able to open, Walters recalled average nights on Whitman Avenue.
“I’ve always been supported by the neighborhood,” Walters said. “Whitman was great because people would just walk over, they’d sit on my back porch, they’d live right next door. So it was really neighborhood, really community. And that’s the feeling I want for this, it’s like you’re coming over and sitting in your backyard.”
Collin Cunningham is a freelance journalist who lives in Tremont.
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