In the News:

Tommy’s on Coventry gets nature award and may expand to West Side

by Debbi Snook, Plain Dealer
October 18, 2013

Things are hopping at Tommy’s on Coventry in Cleveland Heights — and not just for the crowd wanting hummus and pita.

The 41-year-old restaurant, established in the back-to-the-earth era, has won Nature Conservancy’s sustainable restaurant contest in the Cleveland area.

In an unrelated move, the owner is considering an additional store on the West Side.

Tommy Fello, who learned to cook on his own and built the business, said he was flabbergasted that his restaurant won the popular vote over three other contenders: Spice Kitchen & Bar, The Greenhouse Tavern and Lucky’s Cafe.

“It’s cool. The old grunt sandwich-maker ended up on top,” Fello said by phone.

He wasn’t too flabbergasted, though. Once the nominations came out, Fello’s daughter Stephanie marched out a Twitter and Facebook campaign to the restaurant’s loyalists.

The award, called Nature’s Plate, is partly based on popular vote, but also on statements restaurants make to the conservancy about the ways they operate in harmony with nature.

The conservancy is working with farmers and commercial fertilizer retailers in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan on projects to reduce the amount of nutrients that flow into the tributaries of Lake Erie and inland lakes. Too much of these nutrients, including phosphorus, is contributing to algae blooms that poison fish and can harm people and their pets.”

Tommy’s has long-served vegan and vegetarian food alongside diner-style items, such as hot dogs, and Mediterranean foods.

Fello said the eggs he uses are true free-range products from his South Russell neighbor and the oil he uses for frying is recycled for biodiesel engine fuel. He keeps a container in the back of his Coventry Road site and makes it available to all takers.

“We use high-grade frying oil, without hydrogenated oils [trans fats],” he said. “We pay top dollar for it, and we’ve been doing it since the 1990s.

“The neighborhood people come by; they know when we dump it. And there must be some kind of blog for people on the road, that tells them where to find recycled oil, because we get them, too. If you’re there, you’re welcome to it.”

Fello said his buyer, Marc Siegal, makes a special effort to find local produce.

The possibility of a West Side Tommy’s is real, said Fello, but not imminent. He said he was approached this summer by officials at Ohio City Inc., who are looking for a family restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol – a profile that fits him. They toured several properties along West 25th Street, and he is also considering Lakewood.

“I’ve been in business 41 years with a great bunch of people who are really loyal to me,” he said. “I thought, if the situation is right, I could do it to help them out, give them more responsibility. Also, I have five daughters and seven grandchildren. My family could expand into doing more.

“I’ve talked to the kids and they’re excited, but it’s a big step and we have to make sure everybody is on board. We’ve got feelers out there and if the right thing comes up, we may jump on it.”

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