“Grumpy” is Hardly the Apt Description for a Congenial & Hard-Working Mother-Daughter Team

kathy & DaniA gentleman named Grumpy (so named by his neighbors) opened a bakery and café in 1996. Now, nearly 20 years later, Grumpy’s Café only sounds gruff. In reality, this growing Tremont institution known for Cleveland “feel good food” and a friendly and accommodating style, has evolved by two women who learned to develop and manage a successful eatery from the ground up.

The learning curve began when single mom, Kathy McKay Owad, started waitressing for Grumpy’s founder, Scott Lindell. A part-time job soon blossomed into a full-time passion as the “old pro” stretched Kathy’s skills in the kitchen. Techniques learned then continue to enhance the know-how of budding cooks on the line at Grumpy’s today: what spices go with fish; how to pair certain foods together; how to reuse left-overs to trim waste; the recipe for meatloaf; a Mexican Lasagna with layers of tortillas, chicken, chorizo sausage, salsa, sour cream, and cheddar cheese (delicious by the way); and more.

When the founder tired of the business, the pupil was ready to take the reins, and in 2002, Kathy bought the business unaware that her “education” had barely begun.

Less than two years into her new venture, a faulty appliance sparked a fire that wiped out the entire operation. A little frightened but undaunted, and with the loving support of the Tremont community who pitched in to throw a fundraiser, Kathy started over with a recipe that was a lot more involved than making Grumpy’s noteworthy Cajun home fries (also delicious).

Relying on the help of a great network of friends, mastering a business plan, maxing out her credit cards, and the guidance of a website, Restaurant-owner.com, an 18 month adventure to transform an empty beauty parlor commenced. And in 2007, Grumpy’s Café was reborn in its current location.

Kathy observes, “We grow at any age.” It’s an adage she put into practice with her three children, for they all have worked and learned at Grumpy’s at some point growing up. Her daughter, Danielle (Dani), took a special interest in the family enterprise.

After graduating from college with a teaching degree, Dani started serving again when the new location opened on W. 14th Street and took on a larger more active role. Since then, she has worked her way up to become General Manager and schooled herself on the finer points of restaurant operations.

Kathy gratefully acknowledges with Dani’s commitment the succession plan to a second generation of ownership is firmly in place. And while the first generation patiently hopes Dani’s siblings (Kristi and Ryan) fit into the Grumpy’s picture later, Kathy has but one word for her chief collaborator: awesome!

Just like the original Grumpy stretching Kathy’s know-how to the point of passion in the kitchen, and later for the business as a whole, the growing pains of the mother-daughter management team is stretching the collaborative relationship between mother and daughter. It’s been a trial by fire with many ups and downs. “Taking things personally just happen because you are related,” notes Kathy, “but we have learned to try our best to separate business and family.”

Dani and her mother have date nights once a month to force themselves to make time for one another off the clock. It works! Their healthy collaboration fuels a warm and friendly atmosphere, the perfect setting for Cleveland “feel good food” that bring customers back again and again.

As Kathy and Dani correctly observe, “When you eat good food, you feel better.” Amen. (Try the Pulled Pork or homemade Black Bean Burger.)

Grumpy’s Café  located at 2621 W. 14th Street, Tremont 216.241.5025  •  www.Grumpys-Cafe.com
If you are interested in sponsoring a Family Business feature story, please contact Barbara Daniel at 216.228-1379 or barbdaniel@sbcglobal.net

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