Editorial: University Circle’s branding problem

Editorial Board

In recent years, University Circle has lost many of its staple restaurants. From the Happy Dog Euclid Tavern to the Falafel Cafe, many university favorites have closed down. Other notable mentions include Ninja City, Dynomite Burgers, Crop Kitchen, the Accent restaurant, the Corner Alley and most recently, Simply Greek. What these restaurants and locations all shared was a cultural connection to the local area and a menu that featured affordable food items. 

Ultimately, the issue can be pinpointed to the fact that a significant number of relatively cheap food options in a college town closed down almost all within two years in favor of newer, shinier and most importantly, more expensive restaurants.

In the case of the Falafel Cafe, the restaurant had been open since 1997, moving from Beachwood to University Circle and serving both students and staff members for over two decades. However, when the owners of the cafe, Hani and Mae Elassal, did not renew their lease last year, it signaled the end of a cafe older than some of the students attending the university it served.

For context, University Circle Incorporated (UCI) is the company that has a major impact upon what businesses can open in the area, and holds control over the rents in the area. Mr. and Mrs. Elassal did not receive a notice to renew their lease, nor did they have the opportunity to keep their restaurant at their Euclid location. Even when Elassal offered more money for the location, their request to continue renting at this location was denied.

As rents continue to skyrocket in the University Circle area, rising 44 percent in the last year alone, we must ask why UCI and other authorities continue to increase rents. Students and doctors living in the area are the likely reason for this rapid increase, but only one of those demographics seems to be the target for the sudden change in the food scene in University Circle. 

The closing of multiple affordable restaurants implies that UCI is seeking to either promote University Circle as a hip, new location or that this is an attempt to revitalize the local economy. Either way, closing these restaurants will not act as a stopgap, nor will it efficiently rebrand University Circle.

If UCI is seeking to reach a different audience than students, they are ultimately looking in the wrong location. Almost all of the restaurants that have closed have been located in the center of campus. By pushing affordable locations from the area, students are no longer able to easily afford eating off-campus, reducing the amount of money that students inject into the University Circle economy. 

While students are clearly not the target audience of more expensive restaurants like Tacologist or BurgerIM, which have both opened within the last six months, it seems that University Circle is pushing for more doctors or other hospital employees to visit these locations. However, since these locations were student hotspots in years prior, it is hard to understand this change in the target demographic. The neighborhood is even named for the university.

For now, we must consider whether University Circle intends to preserve the local restaurants it has cultivated and integrated into campus, or to seek a new direction and rebrand itself as a culturally distinct borough of Cleveland. Regardless, good luck to any students looking for cheap meals around campus; for those wondering where those are, we hear Leutner’s still in business.