North Park Grille, a long-standing restaurant on John Carroll Boulevard, served its final meal on Saturday, March 16.
The first public announcement of the closing was posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Tuesday, March 12, just days before it closed. “I was waiting,” said owner Mark Reich. “I didn’t want to have a lot of stuff coming down because of it. The University and I knew what we were doing a little bit before that, but we decided to post it to the public on Tuesday, because a lot of people have been here throughout the years.”
The farewell stated, “We’ve had great times with friends, enjoyed making new acquaintances and serving our neighborhood. It is with great sadness that we announce our closure. Our last day serving you, our friends, will be Saturday, March 16. We hope you will stop by before then to say hello and wish our staff well as they depart for new opportunities. It has been a pleasure to be part of your lives, and we wish you all the best.”
Junior Gina Torek said, “I’m really sad to see it closing. It’s a place I’ve been going to since my freshman year when it was the Brew ’N Bistro. I never had a meal there I didn’t like, whether it was the buffalo mac or their grilled cheese and tomato soup.”
The restaurant first opened in 1994 as an Arabica Coffee House. Over the years, the restaurant experienced several makeovers. When competition among coffeehouses arose, Arabica combined with Cleveland chain Cafe 56 to offer more options. The restaurant eventually obtained a liquor license and began serving beer and wine. It was also known as the Brew ’N Bistro for some time.
In its final renovation, the restaurant evolved into North Park Grille, a hybrid between a coffeehouse during the day and fine dining at night.
“At 5:00, we started putting the dining room up, and we decorated the place so that it was a nice sit-down restaurant, brought a chef in, fabulous food and fabulous servers,” explained Reich.
However, Reich said that many customers failed to realize that North Park Grille was more than just a coffee house. “See, at 5:00 this whole place changes. The lighting goes down, the tablecloths go on the table, the shades all come down. It’s like a whole different place,” he said. “But a lot of people during lunch just didn’t realize that. And with the local competition going on, it was getting tougher and tougher. With Cedar Center opening, that’s adding another 11 or 12 restaurants right there to compete with. And we were actually fine dining at night, and that’s a big competition when you’re a local fine dining operation,” he said.
He explained, “People’s cultures have changed a lot about how and when they eat. Sit-down eating isn’t as big as it used to be. On-the-go, drive-through fast food is the big thing today, so it’s hard to compete with that.”
The number of John Carroll students and faculty dining at North Park Grille was severely lacking, according to Reich. “With all the businesses that are here, I wouldn’t venture past the idea that only 20 percent of the business is students, and 80 percent never come near here … The students should [have] come here more because this is what they’ve got real close by,” he said.
However, Reich credits John Carroll University with reaching out and aiding the restaurant. He said, “The University has been there all along, trying to help us – helping with building and remodeling now and then – and did everything to help us that they can. And then they finally got the plan going for the patio, which will be open in the summer, and those patios will make a huge difference because now … this location and Pizzazz will be able to serve alcohol on the patio.”
“I think that’s going to be a destination place again … It’ll be a place for people to come and relax and not worry so much and really just sit back. I wish I could stick around for it, but we pushed about as far as we can push and what we could do. But it’s going to be stunning. It really is,” he said.
According to Reich, hundreds of members of the community stopped by during the restaurant’s final week to express their sadness about the closing.
“I’ve got to say we’ve probably [served] over a million people since we’ve been here. A lot of them still come back. A lot of them come back after graduating or going on to a job. They’ll come back and say, ‘Oh, thank God you’re still here.’ Most of them still believe it’s a coffee house. A lot of them still call it Arabica. This hasn’t been Arabica since 2001. But it was their home.”
“I’m really upset it’s closing,” said junior Lauren Cafarell. “My friends and I loved going there for dinner, and it was also a great place to study.”