The Rough Rider Room (RRR) in Carlton Commons, the main late-night dining spot on South Side, will reopen under new management on Aug. 26. Campus bar Jolly Scholar will be taking over the space, turning it into a restaurant focusing on American comfort food staples, barrel-aged beer and events that wouldn’t fit inside the original Jolly Scholar location.
Case Western Reserve University asked Jolly Scholar owner Matt Vann to take over RRR from Bon Appetit.
“We want to make simple world-class food in this quirky little space, in a building no one ever goes to,” said Vann.
The restaurant and bar will still operate under the original name, a tribute to the Case Institute of Technology’s sports teams, the Rough Riders. Because of the smaller kitchen, the menu will focus on a small number of dishes instead of a wide variety of food, according to Vann.
The main food items will include hot dogs, chicken fingers and burgers, which are all ground in-house. The hot dogs will be a mix of smoked slab bacon and pork shoulder. The chicken fingers will be dipped and fried to order. The six-to-seven ounce smash burgers will be made up of a custom blend to make a ground beef mixture of between 75-80 percent fat. The burgers will be low in condiments, with only cheese, sauce and pickles so the flavor of the beef shines through. Jolly Scholar currently uses a beef blend from a third-party vendor, but they will start using a blend made at RRR once the facility is up and running.
Vann said the only items that will be frozen at RRR are the french fries, a mix of seasoned straight fries, curly fries and waffle fries. Vegetarian substitutes will be available for each meat option.
“The menu is going to be smaller, but we want the food to be exceptional. We want you to get a burger, fries and a drink for $9.99 and whatever you get from us will truly be the best in Cleveland,” said Vann. “I know no one is rolling chicken fingers cause it’s labor-intensive and it’s a pain in the butt and it’s messy. I know people aren’t grinding their burgers in-house cause it’s messy and I know no one is grinding their own hot dogs.”
The shakes will be a step up as well according to Vann. Chocolate shakes will have real chocolate shavings, the strawberry shake will have fresh strawberries and vanilla shakes will have Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean paste.
RRR will also feature partial employee ownership. Student-workers at RRR will benefit from profit sharing and will have a say in the hiring process. If the profit-sharing system works, Vann said he will consider using it at the Jolly Scholar as well.
“I think the personal pride someone would have from a. I’m getting a paycheck for working here and b. if the company does well I’m going to get a bonus,” said Vann. “It’s kind of unheard for companies, especially restaurants to profit share.”
The facility will be used to expand Jolly Scholar’s brewery along with its food operations. Vann said the brewery will make unfermented beer and send it to RRR to age in wine, tequila and bourbon barrels.
Vann’s original plan was for RRR to focus solely on food and to create a second Jolly Scholar—focusing on barbecue and barrel-aging—in Richfield, Ohio. Vann’s application for a zoning permit in Richfield was denied, so he moved the barrel-aging facility to CWRU’s campus.
Beer fermentation and service will start in Jan. 2020, once Vann gets a beer manufacturing license. RRR will be a quick-service restaurant, unlike Jolly Scholar, which features full table service. The restaurant will be open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.—later than most bars—making it a place where students can get food after a late-night study session, or hard night of partying. The space will host smaller events for around 70 people, such as a Sunday brunch with blacked-out windows, drink and food specials and a classic hip-hop soundtrack.
“I think events that don’t fit the Jolly as far as space, size, or convenience,” said Vann. “We want the space to be used as the extended living room for everybody on that side of campus.”
Vann said students can use one meal swipe per week, separate from the special meal swipes that can be used at Bon Appetit-run eateries like Naan, for Jolly Scholar or RRR.
For one meal swipe, you can get an entree (burger, tenders or hot dog) with fries and a drink, or a milkshake with fries.
“This is in no way shape or form a dig at Bon Appetit, but it is a tough space to get people to go to in general. The luxury they had was unlimited meal swipes,” said Vann. “So if somebody was stuck and had to use a meal swipe or they were hungry and had a meal swipe it was an easy option to go there. So that [not having unlimited meal swipes] will be a challenge for us. We think the way to get past that is to put some energy into the space and make the food exceptional.”