Tommy Fello Interview, 11 April 2012

Tommy Fello, owner of Tommy's in Coventry, discusses growing up in Cleveland Heights and starting his drug store/restaurant. Fello discusses the supportive community in Coventry, the history of the neighborhood, and his move to solely selling food at the Tommy's that exists today.

Participants: Fello, Tommy (interviewee) / Fearing, Heidi (interviewer)
Collection: Cleveland Heights
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Tommy Fello [00:00:00] I'm gonna write one more name down on there. If I could borrow your pen again. I just remembered someone I forgot. But I don't have his number. But I'll put him next to Mark because Mark will know his number.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:11] Okay.

Tommy Fello [00:00:11] You might have already talked to some of these people, so.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:14] I don't think so. I recognize the Fitzpatrick.

Tommy Fello [00:00:18] Oh, George? Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:19] I recognize his name.

Tommy Fello [00:00:21] Yeah.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:21] But there probably is a lot of.

Tommy Fello [00:00:24] He's a really. Right now, he's a really. A famous artist. Good.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:29] Oh, yeah, yeah.

Tommy Fello [00:00:31] He has shows in New York and all over the place. Yeah. But he. He used to run the theater up the street when. That's how I met him.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:39] Is his name on it?

Tommy Fello [00:00:41] The movie theater?

Heidi Fearing [00:00:42] Yeah.

Tommy Fello [00:00:42] No, no, he was just a manager there. Yeah.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:48] I wonder why I. Maybe I'm making it up. It could be a different.

Tommy Fello [00:00:53] Well, it's a pretty common name, I think. Yeah. Yeah, these guys will give you some rich history about the street. I mean, big time.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:09] If you'd like to tell me about them.

Tommy Fello [00:01:11] Already, now. Yep.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:12] And I was trying to get the sound levels right, so.

Tommy Fello [00:01:15] All right. Let me know when you're ready.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:17] I'm ready now. Whenever you are.

Tommy Fello [00:01:18] Okay. I put Pee Wee down first. Everyone- He is affectionately known on the street as Pee Wee, but his real name is Marvin Rosenberg. And to tell you how far he goes back is that my brother and I bought our first bicycle from him when we were little. And Pee Wee, I think, is now in his late eighties, but he's still around on the street. He doesn't have his bike shop anymore, but he can tell you all about the different changes that are on Coventry also from where he had his different bike shops. He had one on Mayfield Road for a while, and then he had a couple spots on Coventry. And then right before he retired, he put one on Lee Road, right by Superior on Lee. But he's a good person to talk to. Ellie Strong, whose name used to be Ellie Hauserman, used to run Coventry Books, which is in the spot where Tommy's restaurant is now. So when I was up the street where the Inn on Coventry is, that's where her first store was. She had opened Coventry Books down the street. Her and her two partners ran Coventry Books for the longest time. And unfortunately, as many bookstores did, they went out of business, unfortunately. And now she's in the bookbinding business. But she has a lot of. She. As a matter of fact, she organized the Coventry get together, reunion, this last summer, where some of the people came to it. John Richmond, who is presently a very talented musician, used to be one of the managers at the movie theater, but he has some insight on what was going on. George Fitzpatrick is a good friend of mine who was a manager of the theater when it was actually was an X-rated theater back then. And to tell you that what it was is that our store? Do you know where Inn on Coventry is now? Well, that was our store. It was a little drugstore with a soda fountain. And the movie theater, they made all their money off a X-rated 3D movie. It was one of the first ones around and on. Unfortunately, the lines were past our store. But you'd go in there, you get these little glasses. It was called the Stewardesses. And the people that ran that theater were out of Arizona. And they made all their money off of that one movie. And then nothing else ever happened. So eventually they sold it and it eventually got closed down. But for the longest time, George worked there as a manager, a very talented artist. And then he opened a bookstore in the front of one of the stores on the street called Cargo, which was really. It was like a mom and pop version of Pier One before Pier One was a glimmer in anybody's eye, but it was a top notch, beautiful store. And in the front window, George opened a little book shop in there. And then all the time he was doing his artwork. And he's had shows in New York and all over the place. Very, very well known. He always says that I'm going to. When I die, I'll be really well known. But for now, he's a really nice guy, really talented artist. F. David Gill. Some of these people that are down here were members of the Coventry Neighbors back in the seventies. I just remember someone else's name, too. And F. David was one of the officers and the Coventry Neighbors back when the street fairs were going on back in the seventies. And he can give you some. Some insight on stuff. Bruce Hennes, who presently still works in the Heights here. And he was a president, past president of Coventry Neighbors, and really had a lot to do with the organizing of the first couple of street fairs, which were back in the seventies. Now, Manny Dishler is the owner of Heights Laundromat, which is across the street from Winking Lizard. Now, when I was a kid, when I was 14 years old, working at the drugstore where the Inn on Coventry is, because that used to be a drugstore with a soda fountain - that's how I got my start. Our whole lunch crowd for lunch was from his place of business. I think he had 30 or 40 employees at that time. And they would come over for lunch, and we would sell them toasted cheese sandwiches. And nothing like we have now. It was just little heat and eat things that we had egg salad sandwiches, stuff like that. And we always had great milkshakes. So they'd come over and get a bottle of Pepsi or something to take out or a salad. But Manny would probably have an awful lot to tell you about the street and how he saw the street back then, because it was a lot different. Back in those days there was a lot of Jewish delicatessens, or Jewish, like, egg and fish stores. And then there was two delicatessens, Leo's and Irv's. And then there was no other restaurants on the street, except for we had a soda fountain counter. And there was antique stores. Lots of those. There was about five or six beauty shops, like, for, you know, when the people would come and they put the little thing on their head. The women, like, in their forties or fifties, would get their hair done? There was, like, a few of those. There was a furrier, and there was an upholstery place. There was actually some wholesalers. One wholesaler was called Hazeley Waller. And they sold- Like, if you had a school, you represented a school, you'd come buy your auditorium furniture from them. And then there's another wholesaler down the street called Bicart Drugs. And our little drugstore would buy our toys and school supplies from him to mark up to sell. So that was all that was down here. And it wasn't until Bill Jones, which is another name under here, started making handmade sandals in the basement of an antique store, right about where- It would be in the block where the new BD Mongolian. And I can't remember the other place up the stairs, but McNulty's. But that was a different building then, because that building burned down. But before it burned down, there's antique stores. And in the basement all night, Bill Jones would be making these handmade sandals. So the word got out that you could come to Coventry. This guy will trace your feet, make your sandals for you. And they're really cool. So all the hippies and everyone loved it, so they would come down, they'd flock from everywhere. So he started the first, really startup on Coventry, I think I firmly believe. And as a 15, 16 year old kid, I was really impressed with how hard he worked. And I really admired him, because he would come out of that basement after working all night, his eyes were, like, bugged out from working. And he made- He turned out the most beautiful sandals. Later on, he did boots and leather jackets and stuff. But when he first started, he was strictly doing those craft-made sandals that people came from all over. And Coventry got on the map. Another reason Coventry got on the map was because there was a bar on the street called C-Saw, where a few Hell's Angels hung out. Well, on our menu, you see, there's a Beetle Omelet. Well, the Beetle Omelet happened to be a guy that was the treasurer for the northeast Ohio chapter of the Hell's Angels. But he worked at the Leather Shop after they started getting employees. When they first started, Bill did it all by himself. But as he got a little bigger and the name came around, he needed help, people to help him. Well, Beetle was one of the people that helped him, along with Brian and other people. And they would come and have coffee at the restaurant, even though it was just a drugstore with a soda fountain. And they'd come in, have coffee and chit chat and stuff. But Beetle, to me, was a really nice guy. He, as a matter of fact, when I got my first motorcycle, he taught me how to tune it up, how to drive it, so I wouldn't get killed. Really nice guy. But I guess when he wasn't at work and wasn't being a nice guy, maybe he wasn't so nice working with the Hell's Angels. But everyone seemed to think, well, there's all these Hell's Angels down there. You gotta be careful and stuff. And it really wasn't like that. When the Hell's Angels came down, they came down to visit Beetle. And there was some trouble. They did have some trouble with them, I'm not going to lie to you about it, but the majority of the time, they were just hanging around visiting Beetle. And then when he was done with work, they took off and went on their own merry way. So Bill Jones was really the start of Coventry. I feel strongly about that. And he opened a dress store later on. And he helped Cargo, which was that Pier One mom and pop-type store. He helped Larry Lockhart get that started. And they just took off. People started coming up. Wow, look at all these cool shops that are down there. But it was all in Bill's head. He had all imagined how nice this would be. As a matter of fact, on April Fool's, this year would be his, if he was still open, would be his 46th year. That he would have been on the street doing the Leather Shop. Right now, he's still making sandals and- He's still making purses, I should say. And another fella that used to have a shop. Mike Defina. I'm going to write this name down, too, because you might want to talk to Mike Defina, who has a store in Ashtabula. Well, Mike Defina had New World Haircuts, and I'll have to get you the name of his store. Well, Mike was doing haircuts for a long time. He was above where CD Game Exchange is now. He was down the street where Pacific East is for a while. And I should write down Lee Goldstein, too. I keep thinking of these things. Sorry.

Heidi Fearing [00:10:57] Actually, that reminded me that I needed to turn off my ringer, so it works perfectly.

Tommy Fello [00:11:02] Okay. Lee Goldstein. I'll get you his number, but this is a more recent story. So Mike Defina was in the restaurant, and he used to have the haircut place, and now he does antique store, and he has a place in Ashtabula. It's sort of a cool little place. And he said, come out and visit us, Tom. So we drove out one day, and it's right by the lake. It's really a pretty spot. And it looks like Coventry, a neat little strip, but there's hardly any stores that are open. It's really depressed. But it was like a- All the ships would come into the port. And back in the old days, there was like a bar and a brothel and all this stuff. Well, the store next to him, as a matter of fact, was a brothel. And you go and it has all these cool, like, gifts and stuff, but you look up, there's a railing where all the ladies would hang over, and people would pick out who they want to go with. There was rooms upstairs and stuff. And Mike's place that he has now was an old hardware store with his sliding ladders and stuff that would go to the different shelves that were too high. Well, I go into Mike's shop, and I smell this. I'm saying, boy, that smells like leather. And I go back in a little corner, and there's Bill Jones. He has all his purses and stuff. I had not known that he was there. His stuff was there. And I said to Michael, I said, Bill's still selling his stuff now? Because I didn't know what had happened to him. He says, yeah, bill's living in Peninsula now. He does this for me here. And he has a neat little saying. Now, when you enter that little area, it says, because he sells all purses now. He says, why go coach when you can go first class? Because you know Coach purses and stuff. So it's really a cool little thing. And Bill was here this summer for the- David's his real name. But Bill was here for the Coventry Reunion, and it was great to see him, but he's doing great, and so he'll have some good stories for you. Then I wrote down Mark Siegel. Mark presently is our produce man. He sells- The reason why we have such good produce is he goes. When I first started, I used to go down to the market myself. I was open six days a week, from seven in the morning until midnight every single day. I worked the whole shift all those days, from seven in the morning till midnight. And on Sundays, we were closed. And I'd either play baseball or do something. But where I would go down early before that to the market to get a little bit of vegetables we'd use, I would use, like, maybe a case of lettuce would last me, like, a week. And one little block of American cheese, because that's all we had at that point when we first started, would last me about a week because we didn't have- We only had seven seats, you know, seven stools at the counter. So Mark became our produce man as we grew. And because I couldn't get the time to go down to the market, so Mark had a little- Him and another buddy, Tom Reaney, opened a produce company where they supply produce to restaurants and stuff. And he's still our person after probably 38 years now, I've been with him. But he also was key because he was down on the street back then. He lived in the neighborhood, and he also worked at Dobama and the bowling alley. There was a bowling alley on the street. And I'm pretty sure that either him or someone else of his friends used to set the pins because it wasn't automatic. You would roll the ball down, and whatever pins got knocked down, someone had to set them up because there wasn't automation back then, so. And then he helped the Dobama, which was in the basement. The Dobama's on Lee Road now, but they were in the basement below Winking Lizard back then. Before Winking Lizard, it was- Back then it was Turkey Ridge, and before that was Leo's Delicatessen. But he helped finish remodeling, so it would look like Dobama. So he can tell you some stories about that, about how that got started, because it was all pretty much volunteers. The nice part about Coventry, when everything had to get done, if you didn't have enough people, whether it was the street fair or building the school playground, everyone volunteered. Everyone got done. We usually ended up feeding them. And then other people ended up with the hammer and the nails and stuff, or when I burned down one time, the neighborhood came and helped me get things because I didn't have insurance, enough insurance. So they came and helped me rebuild. Alex Bevin came and was playing songs, had a little concert while people were working. It was like no one asked anybody to do anything. They just did it, because that's what Coventry is all about. It's all about helping each other out. And that's why we nicknamed it. As a matter of fact, Bill Jones nicknamed it Coventry Village. Because when you talk to him, you see he has sort of like a little British accent. And I think the village sort of ties it into a quaint, little connected community. And I really still- It's still that way today, I feel. Alan Rapoport, he was another president of Coventry neighbors. You'll have to get his number, though, from Mark Siegel. I forgot to look it up. But he also helped with the street fairs when they first were going on. Chuck Miller is a member of the historical society, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and I think the Cleveland Historical Society. So he can really get you some great pictures and probably has a lot of detail and factual things that he can get for you about the whole district. Michael Montlack. Now, the Montlack family- There was two families that owned almost all of Coventry, the Ross family. And then there was- The William Ross family. And then there was the Montlack family. I can't remember what his dad was named, but both William Ross passed away, passed it down to his kids. And then Michael and Ken's dad passed away and passed it to his kids. Right now, the Montlacks own about 40% of the street, and he knows the neighborhood backwards and forwards since when he was a little kid. So because he grew up in the area, he'll be able to give you some great, great memories about what the street was like and where also he'd like to see it go because he's very much involved in the special improvement district, trying to get things done. So Michael would be an excellent person to talk to. The only thing- Can we not tape for a second? Be prepared. [recording was paused and resumed] But he'll have some great stories for you. His brother Ken is a councilman for Cleveland Heights now. So that's the connection there. But Michael and Ken own a fair amount of property, all in this whole area, apartments and everything. Chuck Owen was president of Coventry Neighbors for a long time. When we had a development corporation, CVDC, instead of right before. That was the first thing before the Coventry Village special improvement district. He was president of that as well, donated countless hours to the street. But he has some terrific stories for you about the neighborhood and stuff. He can help you with that. Lee Goldstein is presently the owner of Laura Lee. He's been on the street almost as long as I have. I think probably. I bet she's been on the street for 38 years. I betcha. I've been on for 40. Manny's probably been down there a little bit longer than me, Manny from the Heights cleaners. But Lee will be able to give some stories about where he was and stuff because he was at that end of the street a lot and he was upstairs a few times. And now he's on the main street. But he'll be able to give you some great insight as to what's been happening, what was happening on the street. But that's all the names that I gave you here. Those are some people I think can really give you some good information for your project.

Heidi Fearing [00:18:43] Thank you so much. And actually, I might. Some of the stories you told about them might be useful.

Tommy Fello [00:18:50] Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. They'll have more. Bruce will have a whole bunch of- Some of them might have even pictures for you from the old days because- You know Kara from the city, right? Well, she's got some pictures too. But some of these other people might have some pictures for you where, like, it's neat looking at the block that I'm in now. Back in the old days, I remember when I was a kid. I went to St. Ann's for school and then after, after church sometimes we come down because there was Newmarks Bakery and there was another bakery. We'd love to get a bakery down here, but so far no luck. There's Newmark Bakeries which made these delicious donuts. They were so heavy and so good that they just- They weighed a pound. If you ate one it just felt like you. You just ate a brick. But they were so good going down. You know how when something tastes real good you just eat it real fast when you're a kid? These things were so delicious. And they were always so busy after church because everyone go down there to get stuff. And there was another donut place called Sid and Dave's, which was next to pick and pay, which was where Pick and Pay was, right where Marc's is now. And Sid and Dave's was a little donut shop. And most of the time the people from Heights Laundry, because it was right next door to the Heights Laundry, would go in there and get coffee and stuff from them and get donuts. And sometimes they come over for us for lunch and stuff. But Sid and Dave were there for a long time. They closed down when they built Lot 15, which is the parking lot between there. That's where their building was. So that was. That was a poultry place, a poultry and egg place, and also Partytime Donuts. So that was there for a while. So we lost a lot of the stores over the years, but we replaced them with really sort of more retail, less service-oriented, less wholesale stuff like the furniture and the reupholstery places, which was really good for the other businesses. It was good to have the hardware store and all those other places. But it was great to have other people. Like what's happened down at the other end of the street now at the north end, all the clothing places, because it brings people down. Like, people say, aren't you mad that in the old days there was only three restaurants and now there's 14 places to eat? I said, not really. I think it's great for everybody because as long as you have enough parking, people are coming down. If they think, let's go get something to eat. They're thinking of Coventry. And as long as you're coming to the area, they're going to hit on you once in a while. And that's the mainstay of what we really believe in. But, yeah, things have changed over the years as far as back in the seventies, which I think what your project's about, how the street's changed over the years. Is that what your project's about? About how things were and how things are now?

Heidi Fearing [00:21:33] I haven't really developed an angle yet. I've only done one site so far.

Tommy Fello [00:21:37] Okay. Well, back in those days, when I was just a kid working at the drugstore, it was pretty interesting that there was a lot of oh, I would say older people. Ethnic, really ethnic, Jewish, Russian Jews. And people were catering to that sort of clientele. That's where all the egg stores and the fish stores and the poultry market and the kosher chicken market was back. I don't know. Steve told you about that. Back behind where Panini's is now, up in front, it was ABC Construction. You'd go there if you want to get something built. And sometimes there was rumors that it was sort of mafia stuff back in the late sixties, early seventies. But if you wanted to get something done, they would contract them to do it. And behind them was the poultry store. For as long as I could ever remember. I remember sneaking out of St. Anne's parking lot and going down. We'd watched them butchering the chickens or eating lunch, believe it or not, it was really gross. Now, I can't even imagine doing that because it was really gross and it really smelled. So we would go down there and the rabbi would be doing whatever he does, the proper procedure to get it done. And we'd come back with, because Mitchell's candies was on the street. So our job, when we snuck out, when the nuns didn't see us sneaking out of the schoolyard, we had everybody's money to go get leaf bubblegum from Mitchell's candies. And, oh, we'd come back with candy. We would be divvying it out. That was our business transaction even back when we were in 7th grade. But in the meantime, we'd take time out to take a second to let's go check out the chickens, what's going on over there? And believe me, gross. But so that's how the street changed. And then once Bill Jones came along, the whole flair and the whole ambiance of the street changed because more and more youth were coming. They happened to be hippies at that time. But more and more youth came into the area where, let's go get those sandals. Oh, my God, you got leather jackets, too? Oh, my God. Frye boots were big then, especially for motorcycle people because they were the best with the heels. And you'd hook your thing on 'em, your heel to the [inaudible] would go. But all the dress stores and there was Ironworks and there was Cargo and Dress Me and all these other places that started popping up. And I'll tell you, just more and more people kept coming down and helped my business thrive, really, because really they are looking for something different. The guy- I learned, what I learned to do because I went through three different owners. The last person I worked with was a Lebanese fellow, and we were present- We always had great milkshakes. I'm still making shakes the same way I did back when I was 14 years old with the same ice cream. And it's a different dairy now because Dean Dairy used to be on the street, too. Their trucks, right where the garage was, was the Dean Dairy truck depot. So all the Dean Dairy's would go- Trucks would end up there at the end of the night and we would buy our milk straight from them because they had the dairy right there. Well, they obviously went out of business. And now we're buying our milk from Hartzler out of Wooster, because we try and support local businesses as much as we can. But I lost my train of thought, what I was talking about.

Heidi Fearing [00:25:02] The young people came in.

Tommy Fello [00:25:04] Oh, yeah, the young people came in, and they were always coming in because they liked the milkshakes. But when they came and they sat at the counter, we just had seven seats and all they had. I don't know if you've ever seen this before, but it was a big thing back then in the late sixties, early seventies, when you're driving along the turnpike, you'd have a rest stop. Well, microwaves weren't invented then, so what they had and what I used all the time to were Stewart sandwiches. And Stewart sandwiches were a cellophane bag with a premade hamburger and a bun all in the cellophane wrap. And you'd stick them into this oven. It was like a Betty Crocker oven with a light bulb on top and bottom. And I think if- Have you seen the ovens that I have at the store now where the lid lifts up and there's a bright light in it? Well, think of a smaller version of that, with two bulbs about this big there and two bulbs there. So as someone would come and order a hamburger, I would take that package with the cellophane and everything, put it into that oven. The cellophane would burn all the way around it. And then he'd take it out, pick off the burned piece of cellophane, serve the burger. That's the type of food we were serving, and everyone hated it, but they loved the milkshakes. And we made some good egg salad that the lady, the Jewish guy worked for before the Lebanese guy showed us how to make. But really people were just coming for the milkshakes. We didn't have French fries or anything like that. No fryer was even in the building. But Fauzi, who was the guy I worked for from Lebanon, his wife would bring him falafel, bring him a hummus or a baba sandwich, and the people would say, what is he eating? And we'd tell him, why don't you serve that? Because, why are we eating this? We're vegetarian. We don't have anything for us to eat. Have a milkshake. It may be a salad, but can you get something and start serving that? So we started serving the spinach pies and stuff like that. And our whole menu is based- Because I was the cook, the cashier, the bottle washer, everything. I had to do everything at once. So the same people ordered the same sandwiches. That's what the names on our menu are. They are a history of all the people that ever worked or lived in the street, that ate at the restaurant, that had something almost every day. So rather than writing it down, I just wrote their initials or some named it after their pet or some named it after their wife, or whatever. But all the names mean something to me and mean a little bit about the street. Now, those people are all over the world. Some are famous, some work with Walt Disney. Some have been on Broadway. Some have gone to school in England, famous artists. And they all come back down to the street. And whenever they're there, they stop in to say, hey, where's so and so? And if now with the Internet, it's pretty cool, you know, you can say, oh, here's his email address. But back then, we think he's living in New York. Try this district or something, and they'd try and look him up. Or when they came back into town, I'd get their number from him, and next time the other guy came back, I'd get his number. So it's really like a family sort of network. And those people are really near and dear to me because they helped me stay in business, really a couple things, because I really know what I was doing. when I started I was just out of high school. I went to Heights High, graduated from Heights in 1970 and didn't go to college. I went to one year of computer programming school, which was called ICM, which is right now it's on 19th and Euclid, but that's where Cleveland State is now. Right around there. There's a little school up on- You'd go up this elevator. It was a third floor, and my whole- It was a nine month class. My whole class was strictly typing in and punching the keycards, learning how to do that, and then doing a little bit of basic assembly language, Cobalt and Fortran, flowcharts and stuff. I never really got to really use a computer because there's so much other things to do. And one time we went to, I think it was National City Bank or Union Trust or something. They had a big office downtown. The big thing is, we're going to go see the big computers. These computers filled this room. That's how big they were. I mean, you'd go and they had reel to reel, and reel to reel was really brand new because usually you're typing all these cards in, and so if you wanted to type something to go on the computer, you would type, "Tommy has to go to work." That'd be six cards with Tommy on one. And you'd take these cards and you just put them in this thing, and it was like. It was like I said, I like this, but I don't see myself doing this. So the whole time I was selling sandwiches down there because they didn't have cafeteria. So I'd bring hummus sandwich or baba sandwich down there. And people had never had it before. They'd never even seen pita bread at that point. And I had never known about pita bread if it wasn't for the fella from Lebanon. And people, it was really cool. They said, well, let's start some sandwiches on this. And we started doing it, and the rest really, basically, is history, because more and more people came and ate. And what started as seven seats, now we have 125 seats, and we have so many people are loyal customers that still come back, and they like it because it's a little bit of their history and their youth, or their children's youth, or they met their significant other there in the store where we were after. Our first store was on, where the Inn on Coventry is. We lost our lease there, and we went down to right where Mac's Backs is now. Now, that was our entryway, but our store was like an L shape. And right now, Steve from Big Fun has the L part of our L-shaped store, and Suzanne has our entryway. Well, we had a balcony, and then back in the L shape, where Big Fun is now, that was all our dining. So we'd walk in, the soda fountain was there, and the cook station was there. And upstairs there were some seats, but the majority of the seats were in the L part, where they're seating first floor, seating second floor. We put this balcony in there, and in the basement was the bathrooms. Well, right before getting ready to open, there was a water bed store in front of us called Waterworks. Well, something happened in their basement. Something caught on fire and wiped out our whole dining room. So when we first opened up - luckily the city let us open, otherwise they could, I probably wouldn't even been in business now - they bent the rules a little bit because we really didn't have a back. We had a front exit, but no back exit. So they let us open up. But the neat thing about it was, let's say you came in and you didn't know me, and you wanted to sit down and eat, and I came, and I didn't know you. There was no more tables, so we were sat together. My dad, who worked with me, he was a chemical engineer for Sohio at night, he'd come and help me seat people, and so he would take them upstairs, and so we'd sit together and start talking. And I think about two or three people got married that way. And so the neat part about it is that there's some rich history, and people really have fond memories about the old stores and even the new store. And they love to see that we're still in business, and they love to see that we still have the same food. And we try to be all the proper things, because I want to be that way, not because it's chic, supporting local business, having filtered water, using the best oil, making everything from scratch, I think that's really important. I think that the customers really appreciate that. And so that's why I think we've been able to be successful. And I think also we've been able to be successful because we sort of Americanized Lebanese food. Like, for example, when Fauzi used to work at the store and he'd have his sandwiches, right before we left we started selling some, like falafel and stuff. And there was a lot of Palestinian and Israeli people and Lebanese people come get a falafel sandwich and hummus and stuff. Well, when Alan and Geannie created the AG special, which is a baba bowl with cheese and hot, that was not heard of. The real, true ethnic Middle Eastern people looked at that and said, what are you doing to our dishes? And they weren't real happy with that. Or my famous thing was traditionally falafel was served with the pickled vegetables, where we started putting tomatoes and peppers and onions and sprouts and stuff on it because that was the thing to do, because everyone wanted sprouts. And so the Arabic people would come in and they'd say, say, I have a falafel, but don't put any of that hair on it. They didn't like sprouts at all. So they would still come in and stuff because it tasted like their ethnic- Because I learned from someone that was from Lebanon, but they didn't like the American. The cheese on them and stuff like that. And there's an old song called Alice's Restaurant, probably well before you were born, I can't remember. I think Arlo Guthrie used to say, "You get anything you want at Alice's restaurant." Well, Tommy's was the same way. When Ed Zinc came in, he said, can I have a falafel but put some cheese on it, some Munster cheese? I said, sure, I had no problem. We named it the EZ, Ed Zinc. I didn't ever question it because the deal is, that was sort of my social life since I worked so much from 7:30 in the morning until midnight, I didn't really go anywhere. So those people coming in, and since it was slow enough, we interacted they became basically more friends than customers. And I think that's how we built such a strong base, because really, I was learning the business. I didn't know what I was doing. I never got any money. For the first three years I worked, I lived at home up the street there on Wilton. I never took a paycheck. I mean, I lived at home. We didn't make any money. And by all rights, I should have gone out of business. But each time something happened, whether it was a fire or we got kicked out of a place we were and moved to another place, people rallied and helped. People came in to shop, people came in to buy food because they knew I needed the business to stay in business. And really, I'll never forget that. That's why I'm always going to be on Coventry. People say, why don't you move and do this? Because when we lost our lease, I said, why don't you move down to University Circle? Why don't you move to Chagrin Falls? I said, well, my heart's here. I said, I love those other places, they're great. But if I'm only going to have one store, I'm going to stay right here on Coventry. And I'm glad we did, because really, we've been able to grow and thrive here. And I think we help the neighborhood, too. I love to volunteer. Not as much anymore as I used to. Steve is the big volunteer person now. I used to do a lot of hours, I think for 12 or 14 years, I was president of the Coventry Village Special Improvement District. And that really was about 40 hours a week on top of the restaurant work, which is unbelievable amount of hours. But because I really cared and I wanted to give back to the street, I wanted to make sure that- I loved Coventry, and I wanted guests that came to Coventry to love it, too. Not just because of the way it looks, because of what it felt by the way the other businesses treated people. So really, it was like I was like an ambassador, because I guess I really wanted people to accept Coventry for how it was and what it did and to make them proud to be shopping down there. And that's why I volunteered so much to do it. So, I don't know if there's any other things you want to ask me, but I've been going on for a long time here.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:33] No, that's great. You actually answered some of my questions. I might re ask them just because it's really helpful.

Tommy Fello [00:36:40] Okay. Absolutely. A base to start with.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:43] And if you repeat something, that's fine.

Tommy Fello [00:36:44] Okay. Think of something completely off topic, which I probably will.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:48] No, I mean, talk as long or as much as you want.

Tommy Fello [00:36:51] Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:36:55] Let's see here. You kind of. You answered that one almost completely. Can you describe a little more your connections to Cleveland Heights and Coventry besides your restaurant? I know you did a little bit.

Tommy Fello [00:37:06] Oh, yeah. Well, I grew up on the corner of Wilton and Somerton, which is a block, about two blocks up the hill by Coventry school. We moved there. I was born in Louisiana. We moved there when I was three. And that was my home until I moved out and lived on Euclid Boulevard in an apartment for most of my life I was there until we moved out east into Russell because we used to be closed on Sundays, I think I told you. And at that point in our stage of our lives, we only had six employees. Right now we have 59. And on Sundays, we closed. We'd all go do stuff together. Like, we would go horseback riding and we'd go out to Stow to Larry's Stables and rent horses, and we'd have a grand old time. And we got into horseback riding. So once we got into horses, it was sort of hard to live in the Heights and have the horses out there. So we moved out east, where horses were allowed a little bit. But for the most part, I lived and grew up in Cleveland Heights. Went to St. Ann's, went to Heights High. I'm very proud to say I'm a member of the hall of fame at Heights High school. Other people which are a lot more deserving, I are like, Peter B. Lewis is one, a couple astronauts, lots of authors, and some really, really famous people. So when they chose me, I was really honored, especially since I just make sandwiches. But they were happy that I was part of the neighborhood, so I was accepted with that. Growing up in the Heights and really watching how Cleveland Heights government worked and interacting with them when I needed, I had problems, let's say, with that fire, they could have closed me down. They didn't. They were very supportive. The people that worked with the city over those years, the relationships we've built have been invaluable to me. And like I said before, I want to give back to this district because they have given me so much. And really, there's numerous times because of, whether it was because of my ignorance when it came to running a business or because of mishaps or things that would happen, that I really should not be in business anymore. But if not for the love and the caring and the devotion and the volunteerism of the neighborhood and the help of the city, where I would be closed at this point. So that's why I feel so strong with this neighborhood. It's like a bonding that will never be broken.

Heidi Fearing [00:39:57] Can you talk about a few of your favorite, or as many as you want, favorite memories of Coventry or stories?

Tommy Fello [00:40:04] Oh, yeah, yeah. There's some funny people. Well, you know, Coventry is funny people. But one of the funniest stories is there was a kid named Spody Ody. And Spody Ody was- If he was in that next room, you could smell him because he reeked of garlic. Was a white kid with a bushy black hair. And Spody Ody marched [to] a beat of a different drum. And I think it was every Tuesdays or Thursdays, the big flatbed truck with all the chickens and all the wooden cages would come to that poultry market. Well, at least once or twice, Spody Ody would get up there and start releasing the birds from the cages. And the rabbis would all be out there chasing these chickens, try to catch them. And he would go, "Run, chicken, run!" And he'd get arrested and get put away. But then he would come back and he tried at least twice, I know, but he was just a character. And I remember one time, the Ross family, who owned the building I was in. I'm in presently at that time. And they were fixing some of the sidewalks. And there's this old Italian guy doing the sidewalks. And Spody Ody's walking down towards him. And Spody Ody's always trying, whether he's either bumming money or trying to catch an odd job here or there, stopped this old Italian guy and he says, hey, Want me to help you do that? And the guy's like, smells him and he goes, "Oh, my God, you smell like garlic! What's the matter with you?" Because even for an Italian guy, this guy was, like, overpowering. He must have just eat garlic straight, I don't know. But he was one of the characters. There's some other stories. Like, a story that fire was sort of a neat one of the restaurant. It was a Tuesday in November, 1988. We were on three different floors where Mac's Backs in the back of Big Fun now. But that was our store. Three different levels. And in the basement part, we did head the prep kitchen where we cook things, prep things. And the L part underneath was a dishroom. And we had a dumbwaiter that we got out of Judson Park. They were throwing it away, so we got it. And at the first time, it was- The kids were using the rope to pull it up and down the kids were getting splinters. So one of our customers sitting at the table says, you want me to motorize that for you? And Bill motorized it for us so that they wouldn't- They'd just push the buttons and have it come up and down. He did that all on his own. We paid him very little if anything, I probably fed him, I don't know, and I did that. But the dishes would go downstairs in the basement. And this one year, in November of '88, I was down- I just finished making beef barley soup. Because we make our roast in house for the roast beef sandwiches, and we'd use- At that time we used the juice because we had some beef soups and stuff and changed as things happen. But I'd just finished making a big pot of beef barley soup. I remember very clearly. Someone was short a cook that day. I was upstairs cooking, and we had this guy - Dainu was his name, I don't know his last name - but picture this guy, really dark, black-skinned fella, probably about five foot three. He had to weigh close to 300 pounds. And he spoke with a New York Jewish accent. But he was always the boy that cried wolf. So, for example, "Tommy, I don't know, this sink is backed up. You better get the plumber out here. I don't know if we can fix it." I'd say, "Dainu, it's okay. We'll get it." I go down and there's just like a potato blocking it, or there's like an onion skin blocking, and I'd pull it out. So this one Tuesday, he comes out to me and says, "Tommy, I'm smelling fire. I'm smelling fire." I said, "Dainu, I'll be down in a minute." It was busy. I was working by myself; we were short a person. He comes up about maybe 15 minutes later. He goes, "Tommy, I'm really smelling the smoke. I'm smelling the fire." I said, "Diane, get down. You can see I'm busy. I'll be down here in a second. I'm sure it's nothing." The next time, about 15 minutes, he comes up with tears in his eyes. He says, "Tommy, you can fire me. I'm not going back downstairs." I go downstairs. There's black smoke pouring through the walls. And as I'm running up the stairs, the guy from High Tide Rock Bottom, which is the card shop, is running down, says, do you have a fire extinguisher? Here outside of our wall, the dishroom wall, which he was smelling, was the card stock, all the backup cards and stuff with the head lit on fire. And what had happened is in these old buildings, there weren't any fire stops. So between the ceiling of the retail and the flooring of the residential, there's like a crawl space with all this nob and tube wiring. Well, something sparked and caught on fire and dropped all the way down in the basement with their card stock on fire. So we had still had a dining room full, people back in the L-shaped part. And I said to the firemen, when they finally show up, I said, should we evacuate people? He goes, no, no, it's just the cards. Well, they invested. They popped open the roof, and just like in Backdraft, the whole thing just went "Whoo!" Started burning. "Everybody out of the building!" So we were all across the street watching the building, the burn, move down the block. By the time it was done, from Mac's Backs where our entry was, all the way down to the corner where Hunan's was, which was a drugstore, you could look out and see the sky. It was all completely burned. And it all could have been avoided if I had just listened to him come up the stairs. I don't know if we could have stopped the stuff up top, but the deal is that if I just listened to him. But the funniest thing was, when he came up, if you had seen his face - I'll never forget as long as I live - he said, you can fire me if you want to, but I'm not going back in that basement. I go down there and say, why didn't you tell me? He goes, I tried to tell you. So that's one of the stories. That's pretty cool. And there's always stories with any business about the different people on the street. Like Peter from the theater. He was always down on the street, but he never wanted to bathe. Over the years and stuff, we had a couple fires, and usually you have to throw all the cheese and everything away. Every fire that we would have, those two fires, he would come and help me clean. He just would show up. But you know what he wanted to take out? All the Swiss cheese that was there. There was, like, stacks of Swiss cheese that were left there. He would take them, and I don't know if he ate them all, but he would always. But the reason why I'm telling this story is that one of the years I was volunteering on the street. And in the morning, early, I would go out and water the flowers up and down the street and up where the Inn on Coventry is. we call them the bunkers, where there's those stairs and all the neighborhood people sit on there, it was early in the morning. He was out there having his coffee. There's no other people around. And at that point, I was hooking up the hose to the fire engine. Well. The hose got away from me, and Peter got a shower that he didn't want to have. And it was, like, sort of funny, because here's this guy that probably never bathed ever, and he got doused so much. I said, "Peter, I am so sorry. Why don't you go down to the shop and get a t-shirt or something?" Because he was drenched, and he just walked away mumbling. When I saw the water shoot, it was headed straight for him. There's nothing. Cause he went. It comes out of the water. The fire hose is like a jet. And the hose slipped off, and. And he's sitting there with his gun. He got completely drenched. So that's another story. That was pretty cool. Not for him at the time, but it's sort of ironic that he probably didn't want to be anywhere near water. And here comes this tidal wave of water hitting him. I don't think there's any other stories, but those are some of the stories. And there's different stories about other businesses down here where, you know, really, really nice people that really cared about the district. And they. It was all mom and pop stuff for the longest time, and it still mostly is now. But these people lived in the neighborhood, would walk to work, and really cared about what was going on and were very, very much nurturing to me as I was a young business person that didn't know what I was doing. And not that they'd come and tell me what to do, but they always were supporting me in their way and very kind to me. But those are some nice stories about people, and I'll probably think of some more as we're talking, but those are the ones I remember at the top of my head.

Heidi Fearing [00:49:16] Before I start on you then I'll skip down and-

Tommy Fello [00:49:19] Oh, I remember one more. One.

Heidi Fearing [00:49:20] Go ahead.

Tommy Fello [00:49:21] There's Max. Do you know where Rock Court is over there? Well, Max lived in the house there, and he was a heavy-set guy with almost no teeth, always chewing on something, maybe chewing tobacco. Even when I was a little kid, he was around. He'd always be walking with a cane. And when I was 14 or 15, walking home from work, I would walk up Euclid Heights Boulevard across from the playground there, and I'd walk up the sidewalk, and he had this dog that would always chase me to the end of the property. And I was worried that he was going to bite me. Whether I was coming home from work or going to work, this dog would always run out. And at the last minute, Max would come out, [makes sound of Max's gesture to the dog] and the dog would stop and go back. But I always wanted to let him know, my hair is standing on end, coming at me. Well, Max became- He would always go to the bank. It was a Central Bank back then, I think, right where Key Bank is. And he would come in there and he was always flirting with all the ladies that were there. And they were sort of grossed out, even though he was a nice fellow. But he didn't really bathe, and he had no teeth. And he was always chewing on this thing. But the rumors were that he had all this money lined in his house. And he attached himself to me for some reason. Because I'm not sure whether he was looking out for me or what. I wish he had done it sooner than without his dog. But he would always come into the store. We were building the store in 1978 where Mac's Backs and Big Fun is now, the L-shaped one. He would pop his head in the door and he goes, "Tommy?" And he had his cane and his big bellowing voice. He'd pop his head in this way. "Tommy, they'll be lined up the street to come to you. They will be coming to you. And I will see you, and I'll see you at the bank. They will be coming to you." And he'd twirl and he'd go out. And whenever he'd see me on the street, "I told you!" I'm like, okay. But he was another character, Max. And I'll never forget him. He's a character. But that just popped in my head as you were going to ask me another question. Sorry.

Heidi Fearing [00:51:24] No, you're fine.

Tommy Fello [00:51:25] Go ahead.

Heidi Fearing [00:51:27] I just love listening.

Tommy Fello [00:51:30] There's some funny people.

Heidi Fearing [00:51:31] And the way you tell them is great. I know you did a little bit, but these are some things I'll- Just in case it goes into a different story, but I'm going to ask you about Coventry Street Fair. If you know any stories about Coventry Street Fair, Irv's Deli, Mayfield Cemetery, particularly, because it's really hard to find anything about that. If you know anything about that.

Tommy Fello [00:51:58] Okay. Okay. I got another lady that can tell you about that too.

Heidi Fearing [00:52:00] Oh, great.

Tommy Fello [00:52:01] I gotta get her a number for you.

Heidi Fearing [00:52:02] Okay.

Tommy Fello [00:52:02] It's Mister Roberts' daughter. She's married now, but Mister Roberts used to teach at Heights High. And his daughter, he had two sons and a daughter, and her daughter- His daughter was working with them for a. For a while. And now she works with the history museum, so she may have some good stories. I have to get you her name. Write down Roberts, Mrs. Roberts, even though that's not her right name. And I'll find it. I'll look at my Rolodex and find it. I didn't know you wanted some information about that. I could get that for you. But the first thing on your list was, which one now? Coventry School or Coventry what?

Heidi Fearing [00:52:38] Coventry street fair.

Tommy Fello [00:52:39] Oh, Coventry street fair. Well, the street fairs were started- You know why they were started? Remember I talked to you about the Hell's Angels? Well, all the time, all these businesses are trying to- Bill Jones and Dress Me. And they're really cool stores, but everyone's afraid the- Perception and reality. Perception was, it's dangerous to go down there. Don't bring your families down, because the Hell's Angels will steal your kids and take off with them and kill you and take your money. Well, it wasn't really that way. So a lot of the merchants got together and said, we got to do something to prove to these people that this is a nice place to come shop. So it started out a sidewalk sale because sidewalk sales weren't really around back then, and we didn't get permission to close the street. So people like myself would go out, set up a booth outside in front of our store, and I would be giving away ice cream cones to the kids, or making snow cones and giving it to them and selling shakes for like forty cents at that time. It was like just to let people know that they can bring their family down there. There's places to go and other people having sales and stuff on the street. And it really became a really positive thing. And people would come down, and the whole idea was they come down and they say, hey, this is a nice place to go. You can bring your family here, and no one's going to get carried away in some sort of mysterious motorcycle gang. So that was why it was started. And it worked very well. And Coventry Neighbors was really a strong- And other people will tell you about it because they helped organize it. And for the longest time, I think for ten years, every single person that worked at it would volunteer their time. Everybody. And about the 10th or 12th year, I think it was, it finally got to be where everyone's getting tired of doing it because it became a year-round job. It was. I mean, we got- The street was like Where's Waldo from Mayfield all the way up to Euclid Heights was solid people, all different types of people. And they finally said, you know what? We just don't have any- We're gonna have to hire somebody to do it. Well, they hired someone to do was like, ten or $12,000 back then, even. I think there was probably about maybe mid eighties or. I can't remember exactly what the date was. Some of those other people tell you the exact date for sure. So what happened then? Well, they had to pay these people. Where are they going to get the money from? We didn't really have a street association or anything, so they had to bring in outside vendors to charge a booth fee and give that money to the people that were running it, which, on paper, looked like a great idea. But you know what it did? It sort of destroyed that this is about Coventry. It became a carny, a carnival. And towards the end of it, for example, we stayed on the street because we had our businesses there. But after it was done, those carnies would just go. They'd dump grease on the sidewalk. They'd do this and this and this. The best example would be this little boy, I think his name was Robert, had bought this wind-up bird, which probably worked once, and he goes, where do I go to take this back? And we ended up just giving the money for it, because that guy was long gone. He got his money. He's gone. And luckily, the kid came to me because his mom knew me and thought that I would know who to get it from or how to contact this from. I had no idea. So he had things like that happening that were destroying what we were trying to create and what we were trying to let people know about the fair, about the street. And then there started to be some fights, and then that was all negative. And the city became very much against it, because they would spend all this money for advertising, for buying your house here and live here. Our schools are great. And then in one afternoon, there'd be someone flying through the Grum's window or somebody, because there was a fight, because they were selling liquor there, or alcohol, you know. And so they said, we're going to shut it down. At that point, most I voted shut it down, too, because it was not doing what we wanted it to do. So then fast forward to the nineties, when all the farmers markets were starting and stuff. We thought it might be nice to start these things up again. And Steve was a big part of it, and the street association was a big part of it, finding these market people come start selling their groceries. I mean their farm products, flour, stuff like that, and meats and stuff. And we were holding it on the. In the school parking lot, and we said, well- And Steve was doing movies and stuff even back then, on the lawn of the school. What would be nice maybe if we did something to close off the street. So we got- With these little baby sets, we finally got permission from the city to do Thursday night, close off the street for a while, and that worked pretty well for a while. And then we tried to do some other times, and everything was going along smooth until this last one where they had that flash mob, you know, that, and it was fine until the last minutes of it. So I'm not sure what we're going to do with the street fairs, but the whole realm of it was starting out to show people what we're about. It changed when the outside vendors came in. It got better when the outside market people came in that were still in the neighborhood. They were there for just that afternoon or so. But there are other markets in the district, so if someone wasn't having something, we know how to contact them or where their farm was, and they can go out and visit them. And then this whole thing about this flash mob thing sort of made it sort of ugly again. So, really, we have to sit down, and if we cannot control what's going to happen, which is so hard to do because we don't have any boundaries, really, do we really want to take a risk? Because it doesn't take much to have people get really sour on the district or any street when they see someone getting punched or someone getting run over by people, not in cars, but just stampeded. And I would be afraid for my family. So unless we get it right, we don't want to it. So we're still in talks about that, but that's how it started and how it's up to this point. And what was the next one?

Heidi Fearing [00:58:48] Well, do you have any stories about you, your experience, your experience at the street fair? [crosstalk] Like, I remember seeing a picture. I looked through, like, over a thousand Coventry street fair photos, and I saw a table with watermelon that said Tommy's. And I wonder. And I thought, I wonder if that was him or not.

Tommy Fello [00:59:10] No, it wasn't me. No.

Heidi Fearing [00:59:11] Okay, well, then I'll delete that.

Tommy Fello [00:59:13] No, there was- I don't think it was. I mean, normally what we did is we went out and, I mean, we cranked out some food. We were giving it away, basically, like, 50 cent sandwiches. It was, like, crazy. And we would sell- We would get a discounted rate from Pierre's ice cream. So we put a big banner across the front of the store and block it off because there were so many people, you didn't want to come in because you couldn't handle it all. And we'd just be cranking out these sandwiches and put them in foil. And I remember my dad, my brother, my mom, my sister, they were all out there just having a blast. So, I mean, I remember good times about it and seeing people we hadn't seen for a while coming down and popping their head in to say hi. And that happened again when we started doing them just recently. People hadn't been down to Coventry for a while said, wow, there's some new shops down here, you know, and it sort of worked, I guess. Hey, there's some new things down here. How about looking at the artwork? All these, like, the artwork on the street, there's 59 works of art that protect 59 garden little areas, which could have been, if we weren't involved, would have been just little metal things like this. We found Brinsley Tyrrell, who is the, who was a retired school sculpture professor at Kent State, came in and did 59 works of art for a little bit less than what those generic ones would have cost us. And if we weren't involved, ODOT would have just put those generic ones. We said to them, can we have those dollars if we find someone who wants to do something nicer and look what we got out of it. And each thing that we've done, whether it's through the merchants or through pancake breakfast, is all bringing art back to the district and making sure that when people are walking, they're seeing stuff that- We want them to walk the whole street. So if everything's a little different, they're going to walk to see what else is down there. Whereas everything's cookie cutter. Well, we see it [inaudible]. The whole idea is trying to get all the business people walking up and down to see what we have to offer and making sure they feel comfortable, making sure they're loving it with their eyes, loving it with their heart, and then they'll be back. So those are some of the nice memories. I remember that stuff.

Heidi Fearing [01:01:25] Any crazy incidents at the fair?

Tommy Fello [01:01:32] No, other than I just remember going through so much food. I mean, there were kids that worked at the- That are now probably parents working, were working away, making, wrapping so much milk, so many milkshakes were made because they were so cheap, and we were just, like I said, giving them away. And the people. But some people really liked working at that. And other people said, don't schedule me for that street fair. I don't want to- And they'd be wrapping pita bread. Like wrapping, wrapping, like trays and trays, and people wrapping them individually, because people just come up and grab a couple breads with their broccoli, rizzo, with their hummus or whatever, they just grab the breads. And we're trying to keep up wrapping these breads individually. And I remember these kids faces, like, saying, oh, my God, do we have to wrap bread again today? Because it was a Saturday and Sunday fair, so it was a zoo. I mean, it really was a zoo. And there was people walking down, jugglers and fire eaters and people on stilts and stuff. And I just remember really having. And they were all you could. You knew who was behind the clown face. You knew who was juggling with the mime face on and all that stuff. You just knew them from the times when they came in. You knew the musicians, you knew all the people. And that's what I remember fondly about, is that it was really a community, close community event that really was trying to show the wares of not just a merchants and the services down there, but of the actual neighborhood, the people that lived and worked in the area. So I think that I remember those fondly, those things fondly.

Heidi Fearing [01:03:13] What about Irv's Deli?

Tommy Fello [01:03:15] Oh, Irv's. Oh, yeah, Irv's was- Irv's was a very famous deli. I think they did the movie Night Owls on Coventry. Have you heard of that? Night Owls on Coventry. Even though it wasn't filmed on, it was about Irv's, and Irv's- When I was a little kid, Irv's was always the mysterious place. And it was open all night. And on one corner, you'd have all the sort of mafia-looking people, men. On the other side, you'd have the mafia-looking women. And then you'd have all the hippies going in and getting bounced off these people, and they're always going in there. And it was a nice family that ran it, but it wasn't always the cleanest place. And I guess the funniest story, I don't know if we should say this or not, but the funniest story was- Because we used to have a chalkboard in our basement bathrooms in our l shaped place. Because people are always writing all this. I'm just going to. Going to paint it with chalk. Paint, leave chalk and let them write whatever they want on it. And the funniest thing that someone wrote is - it was sort of gross - but they wrote, "Flush twice. It's a long way to Irv's," because they didn't like their food, obviously. So they said it's bad news or they weren't really clean. And, like the pop- In the old days, the pop guys used to bring wooden crates of pop with glass bottles that you'd have to rinse out, and you get a credit for it, like two cent return. Well, my job as a 14 year old kid was making sure those pop bottles got stacked and brought up the thing. But in our old store, where the Inn on Coventry was, there was like a not so safe circular wooden staircase going down to the basement, which is, like, dark and dingy. And all I remember in that place, there was these big, gigantic water bugs. Like, gigantic. And they would love- If someone didn't rinse out the coke syrup out of the bottom of their bottles of Pepsi and Coke. They would love to go in the bottle and eat that. And once in a while, as I'm carrying up, they'd crawl on me. And the guy, the second guy I worked for, who was a Lebanese guy, too, Freddie, he loved the fact that I was scared to death. These things were gross. I mean, when you stepped on, you heard them. And so he would pick them up and throw them at me if you ever saw him. And the reason why I'm telling you that is because Joe from Coca-Cola and Russ from Pepsi Cola, they're always, like, jabbing each other. Like, he'd go- When he was making delivery of pop, the Pepsi guy would go close up the coke truck so it would take him longer to do it. And they'd do pranks on each other. So they're having lunch in there and having a milkshake or something. And he said, Tommy, we hate coming to your place and doing our delivery. I said, yeah, these stairs are something else. He goes, yeah, but over at Irv's, the bugs help us carry out the trays. It's like- It was like- It was a common joke that it was sort of gross, but it served its purpose. There was a lot of people, a lot of really studied, or not studied, would be studious people that were there doing their homework all night because they didn't have little Internet cafes. And there's just people cramming from Case Western. They'd love to come to Tommy's, but it's closed. But they're going to get something to eat. And that's where they went to get a pizza or something. And the family, the father and the two sons worked there. They worked really hard. But the problem being open 24 hours, seven days a week, there was just no time to do any real cleaning or anything. And there was sort of like- There was rumors that there was always bookies working in the bar part, because a bar part and restaurant part. And there's always these different rumors about him and stuff. But the main thing is that Irv's was a Jewish delicatessen that served its purpose. Most of the people that knew the area probably didn't want to eat there, but ended up eating there a lot for one reason or another, because they had to. As a matter of fact, Bill Jones- The reason why we have something on our menu called the Health salad - Bill Jones invented it - wasn't because, if you look at it, it's got ham and egg on it, it's not a really healthy salad. But when Bill Jones was down in the basement, hammering away at those sandals, he was almost there 24/7 every day of the week, you know? And he came up, Tommy, I would die for a salad. Because there was only Leo's Delicatessen, who traditionally they would have, like, lettuce with a little slivers of pink cabbage in it, or red cabbage, no tomatoes, no nothing else in it. And Irv's, he didn't really want to eat anything they had because they didn't have refrigeration that was anything that was always working, so he said, Tommy, can't you do something? Make a salad? I'll go get you the vegetables. I said, no, no, I go to the market, I could buy the vegetables. And he said, I want to have, like, a meal. Can you put an egg in there, ham, something else, like a healthy salad, you know, a healthy salad. So that's what he said. So we call that the Health salad. That was because of Leo's and Irv's not having what the customers wanted. Or they may have had something that you could get, but they weren't really wanting to eat it there. Once again, listen to the customers, what their wants and needs were created another menu item for me. And so it helped me out. But Irv's was- There was a lot of characters. Harvey Pekar would go in there all the time. He would always complain about it, but he was always there. He'd always come into our shop, as a matter of fact, his first comic book, American Splendor. Him and Sid and, oh, I can't remember, the other guy from New York were sitting on the front. They would always argue politics all the time, and they'd be in the store. And Harvey, you have to picture this guy. Harvey was like, always wore a white dago t-shirt, but he had more hair on his chest and his back than I have on my whole head. And he was- And we had a big mirror behind the seven seats with a soda fountain. And the ice cream was back, and on the back bar was a mirror. And he'd come up and he'd have very little hair on his head. It was all on his back. And he said, I think I'll have a falafel today, Tom. And it would be so funny because there was hardly any hair in his head, even when he was younger. And he would just be in this t-shirt. He was the nicest guy and really kind to me. But he was a character and, as you can tell by his comic books, he was a character. But him and Sid used to get in these big political debates, and they go on and on until finally, when I'm ready to close, we'd have to push them outside, and they'd be sitting on the front step arguing about it. And Fred, the other guy in the picture, which his name was Fred, from New York. And he was just like- He was a troublemaker. But the deal was that they were always in there, but they would always go down- Sid and Harvey and them, when they were done at the restaurant, when we were closed, they would always go down the Irv's, because they knew it's open 24/7 they get any time they want, and. But they always would- Some of these other people you're talking to would give me stories about Irv's and stuff, because I never ate there, to be honest with you. And it's really unkind of me to say those things that I've heard. But that was all the street legend about the place and- But I never really ate there, ever. I never. Because I was working. I never went anywhere. So they would be- All those people on the list have eaten there at least once, maybe tons more, so they'll be able to give you some more stuff on it.

Heidi Fearing [01:10:58] Thank you so much.

Tommy Fello [01:11:00] You're welcome.

Heidi Fearing [01:11:01] Do you know anything about Mayfield Cemetery?

Tommy Fello [01:11:03] [describes Lake View Cemetery instead] I know very little other than that Garfield's buried there and that there's some spectacular views there. And that it's really a gem for our district. It has the most spectacular landscape of anywhere I know anywhere in Cleveland. It's just amazing during spring, fall, students would flock there to hang out and study. When we were little, we used to, when I wasn't working, this was before I was working, probably because we used to go down to Little Italy. And I remember myself and another friend went into Garfield's monument, and they have the caskets down in the basement. And we were up on the first floor, and there's a beautiful balcony where you look all the way downtown. And we were, you know, like kids, touching everything. Touching. We didn't have our parents with us. So we bent a postcard, God forbid. So the guy there, who didn't want us to around anymore anyways, made me go down in the basement and sweep. There's a circular thing where all the caskets are in. There's a wrought-iron thing around it and there's a walkway so you can walk around it to visit each casket, I guess. Well, he made me go down there. It was scary as hell. I was scared out of my wits. My friend was laughing at me. Because he didn't have to do anything. Because I'm the one to bend the card. So I had to sweep around. There's all these dead flies and stuff. Dead bodies. I could swear there was hair sticking out one of the caskets. I'm like, sweeping out of this thing. And I never went back again when I was little. But I've been back since, obviously, because it is beautiful there. And the views are beautiful. But other than the stories of who's buried there. And some of the famous people are there. Eliot Ness is buried there. Here's a funny story about Harvey. You know, Harvey passed away not too long ago. And he wanted to be buried in Lake View Cemetery. Well, they didn't really have a lot of money at that time to do anything with- So his wife - George Fitzpatrick, he can tell you more of the story - helped Joyce, who is Harvey's wife, talk to the guy who was the head of the Lake View Cemetery. Well, they found him a little corner - because I guess he was cremated - a little corner. Here's Eliot Ness. There's Harvey, right in the corner there. And it was so spectacular that they found a spot for him. Because he really does belong in Cleveland, in that cemetery. But George can probably tell you some more stories about how that all went around. Because it was like, crazy. It was his whole funeral and his whole burial. And this whole finding of us. It was another comic book. If he was alive, he would have written another comic book. Steve and I, I don't know if Steve talked to you, we went to the funeral service, and it was something else. It was just like another comic book. All the people. Joy was there. Joy Salad was there. Joy Wood was there. And, oh, I should give you Joy's number. Let me write Joy down there. Because she worked at Irv's for a while. She could probably tell you some stories. Let me write that down. She has two names because she got divorced. I don't know if it's Joy Marshall, but I'll get you her number, too. But she worked there and most of the people from Coventry Neighbors ate there an awful lot, so they could tell you. But that's how I know about Lake View Cemetery. But I'm glad it's there. It brings a lot of people to the district, and we like to try and include that with our, we call it the campus. Like, we try to include the school and the library. We like to include Lake View as part of our campus, even though it's a little bit removed from us. But it sort of almost makes it the Coventry on Mayfield there. But we're. We're very happy that's in the neighborhood.

Heidi Fearing [01:15:11] Musicians Towers?

Tommy Fello [01:15:13] Musicians towers. Wow. That was. Now that's a Section 8 housing now. That was one of the tallest building built back when it was built in this area here in Cleveland Heights for sure. I don't know a whole bunch about it, and I've only been in a few times. There's some spectacular views inside there, too. It's a great place to watch fireworks on 4 July. If you go up on the top floor, you see everything that's going on because you're up so high. Not too much about that that I can share that I know. I've known a lot of people that have lived there and really enjoyed it, but I don't know all the scuttlebutt about how it became about, you know, probably F. David or Chuck Owen would be people that would tell you that, or Chuck Miller, because they'll probably know all the, all the ins and outs of what happened there because that was, you know, another thing too, is, you know, the Unitarian church. Remember the Food Co-op that was down on Euclid Avenue way around when it was still there? It just closed up recently. But the Food Co-op started at the Unitarian church. And the Food Co-op was based on people working and going to the market and then buying things wholesale and distributing it. And the whole food co-op down on Euclid was because it got so large, they had to move into a storefront. And all those people would volunteer their time. They'd get a discount on their food because they'd buy it wholesale. And as long as you worked there and were a member, you take of advantage of all those great prices. If you weren't, you could go and buy stuff, but you didn't get all the great prices and you weren't really part of the real network that's really working there. It got really big and it was really one of the most successful ones in all of Ohio that people would come to see how they did it, but that got its start right at the Unitarian Church on Lancashire Boulevard and they're out of business now, unfortunately. You know, Whole Foods, places like that, just eat up those places. And that's sort of a sad story but that's another report probably.

Heidi Fearing [01:17:27] Heights Art Theater?

Tommy Fello [01:17:29] Oh, Heights Art Theater. Well, George, that's why I gave you George and John's- There's some really rich history there. Jacobuchi, I can't remember, it was probably in 1964, they were shown a racy sort of movie. Now racy back then was, I can't even tell you. George will be able to tell you exactly what happened there but it went to the Supreme Court of the United States and they won because they were going to shut down the theater for showing this movie and it's going to be something ridiculous like that you see in a PG movie now. But back then I was like whoa, did you see that lady's top of her breast was showing or the high part of her leg was showing? I mean nothing like we see now. I mean like the rap songs and all the garbage you see now. I mean this was just like holy mackerel, they're gonna shut this theater down and they fought it. The Lou Sher who owned that movie theater and bunch of like from, from Arizona they fought it. I think it was, I think it was name was Carl Jacobuchi or- No, it was an Italian name [Nico Jacobelli], but George will be able to tell you. That's some, there's some really- There was a, that was a national setting Supreme Court decision and all had to do with the Heights Art. It was called the Heights Art Theater at that time and that set the stage for all movie theaters across the whole country right here in Coventry and then like I said, it got its big heyday when it went to that obviously it was a while after that sort of debate but it had to be in early seventies. I think it was early seventies that they showed that Stewardess movie with a 3D. It was the first 3D, not porn film because it's sort of like an R-rated film now but it had the 3D glasses but it's- I mean it just did show some stuff obviously but nothing like the x rated movies now. I mean it was just like calm compared to that but people would flock in to see it I mean all the time. It ran forever and then a nice story that wasn't such a nice story I remember that it was busy there, but was the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They used to show that. They showed that there for years before. Went to the Cleveland Film Festival and all the places there was lines with people dressed up to go attend that movie for the longest- It was every single Saturday for I don't know how many years. George will tell you, it was the most spectacular thing. And people would participate with the movie. They knew all the lines. I think there's certain parts where they throw stuff at the screen and not hit the screen, but they throw at the actors. Once again, I never went to it because I was working, but you heard stories about it. And it was, for the longest time, every single Saturday night it was a sellout. And people were just- They loved it. They dressed up for it. And it became such a rich part of Coventry. And it was sort of sad to see it go when the movie theater closed. And then it went with the film festival to Cedar Lee and down by the Avenue, the shopping place downtown. But it was really cool to see the people that just love that movie. And I can't remember all the details about it, but George will be able to share it with you. I mean, there's some- He's gonna have some real good stories for you. George Fitzpatrick and about that movie theater and. But those are two. Those, The stewardesses and the- Oh, my God, I forgot the name of it. I just said it.

Heidi Fearing [01:21:17] Rocky Horror.

Tommy Fello [01:21:18] Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yeah, that's the one. Those two movies really stand out in my mind as that theater. Whenever I think of that. Oh, the Stewardesses. Yep. I remember people coming and buying, because at that time, we just had a- There was a drugstore, so I was just working there. And people come in six packs of beer, they buy candy, they buy cigarettes. And the guy loved it. The guy that I think was Freddie owned it at that time. The second guy I worked for. He absolutely loved it because he never saw that kind of business. And then the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it was just great because it was just Coventry. It belonged to this date. It still belonged on Coventry, I think, because it's colorful. Just like the people of Coventry are colorful. And it's just- It's a shame to see it's gone. The movie theater gone, too.

Heidi Fearing [01:22:12] Well, do you have any stories about Big Fun Toys I can add to the-

Tommy Fello [01:22:18] IBig Fun? think the neatest one and the one that describes Coventry the best is when Steve was having a trouble with it. He opened some diners, and he was having trouble making ends meet. And it was like something out of the Christmas Story. All the people, all the people that do stuff for the street and do stuff for Cleveland Heights got together and they said, hey, we're going to- It was almost like the flash, the cash mobs today, the ones that just were done to go and they take, they take $20 to a business and they call it you. We're going to meet at this business. And they did at the Big Fun recently, and they meet there and they spend their- Everyone's supposed to spend $20 in there. And they made like, like $4,000 in like no time at all, in like a half hour. Well, sort of the same sort of deal that everyone got together and said, we are going to give him the biggest money day ever because he was having trouble, like financial trouble. And he gives his heart, heart, 100%. He volunteers. If you need the shirt off his back, he'll give it to you. If he said, hey, Steve, do you know, do you know so and so how I get hold of them? Well, let me find it for you. If he can't find it, he'll find someone to find it for you. And the deal is that he's just that type of person. And when everyone heard he was in trouble, they wanted to do something. And I tell you, everyone, he had a line out the store the whole day trying to give him some sort of cash reserve so he could stay afloat. And I'll tell you, that speaks volume for the people from this district, how they, they did the same thing for me. I mean, not so much in volume like that, but over the years supporting me even when I made stupid mistakes and didn't do things the right way. But they just, they were patient with me. They helped me learn the business when really I probably should have been gone out of business. But in Steve's case and Big Fun's case, when you walk into that store, it is like a blast from the past. All the candies we used to sneak out of St. Ann's to buy for everybody in the schoolyard, they sell them. Everything that you ever wanted to get when you're a kid that you saw or some of the toys that you had when you were a kid or there. And the things you threw away that you wish like anything you held onto because they're worth lots of money now, are there? And just to be able to help make sure that stores door stayed open was an honor to be a part of it. It wasn't like you were trying to give them charity or something. You felt connected as so many people do with the Coventry business district and their merchants. If you feel connected and not obligated, but you want to participate, you want to patronize them, because that's the right word. We go to shop, patronize that's not the right word. We buy stuff from them, give them the business. I'm not sure what the right word is. You want to go there because you care about them and you want them to stay business. And especially this all local stuff that they do now. We've been doing that for a long time. These life centers that they want to build. Hey, you know what? Let's put stores and have living right around it and maybe this and this and this so that people can do it. Well, Coventry is the grassroots living center that they try to recreate now. And it was done from, born out of nature. It wasn't like no one planned it. It just happened to be that way. And it just has always worked, and hopefully will always work forever, knock on wood. And people try to copy with these lifestyle things. And some of them are nice, but it's so fake. It's, like, so plastic. And whereas this is really grassroots and homegrown. And I think that's what so nice about Coventry. And Big Fun is a big part of that. And to be able to walk next door and get some of the most hilarious cards I've ever seen in my life, or to just stop next door and get a nickel nip candy that I used to have when I was in grade school. And really smells and sights take you back to your youth a lot of times. And when people come in and have a falafel or a milkshake, it takes them back to when they were young because it's made the same way, it tastes the same way, and it's a good time for many of them. And they love reliving that. And when they go into big fun, they have that same experience. You'll buy something that they used to buy when they were a kid, and it's the same. It may be not the same size that gumballs back then, or maybe like this now they're like that. But the deal is stuff, flavors and all this stuff are the same. And I think that that's so important to then show that to your kids. And that's why I'm glad you're doing this thing, too. And Joyce, Harvey's wife, did some series about Coventry, because it's so important that the kids don't forget about this rich history. To make sure that they realize that it wasn't always like this. It's different, and it's grown. It's changed. In some ways good, in some ways bad. But it's important for people to know the whole history of how it started and where we'd like to see it go and why it's the way it is, I think.

Heidi Fearing [01:27:50] Do you have a time that you need to.

Tommy Fello [01:27:52] What time is it?

Heidi Fearing [01:27:53] It's 20 till.

Tommy Fello [01:27:55] I should probably go pretty soon. I'm not sure if there are any more questions, but.

Heidi Fearing [01:28:02] We'Ll do some quick ones.

Tommy Fello [01:28:03] Okay. That's okay.

Heidi Fearing [01:28:04] Let's see what the most important.

Tommy Fello [01:28:05] Normally, I wouldn't have it. My daughter, unfortunately, had some bad news. My daughter was having twins. She lost one of her babies the other day, so she's in the hospital, and she's only at 30 weeks. So the baby that's at the hospital now is in the IC unit, and my daughter's still there. So we've been going to the hospital a lot. So it's been a little crazy. So I want to head out there again. So I spent a little bit more time with you, but really, I want to get out there to see her.

Heidi Fearing [01:28:32] Yeah, I understand. I'll hurry it up. I had no idea. Thank you for coming.

Tommy Fello [01:28:36] Yeah, it's flabbergasting. Yeah. Well, like I said, we've been spending a lot. This happened Saturday, and I was there for a long time yesterday, and for a while there, we thought, we were gonna lose all three. But thank goodness we got a really feisty little baby. And my. My daughter's doing great, and I think she's going to get released tomorrow, so.

Heidi Fearing [01:28:57] Good.

Tommy Fello [01:28:58] Everyone's praying a lot, so it helped.

Heidi Fearing [01:29:00] I'll contribute.

Tommy Fello [01:29:02] I appreciate that. Thank you.

Heidi Fearing [01:29:05] Let's see. Can you talk about- Oh, you already did that kind of. When did you decide to open your restaurant?

Tommy Fello [01:29:17] Well, I think when I was selling the sandwiches at the Institute of Computer Management, I was taking sandwiches down, and when I saw the people eat these sandwiches and the joy they got out of eating them, wow, this is really great. And I was sort of, like, so happy with myself that they really liked something that I did. I loved that interaction, and I fed off of it. And to this day, the biggest thing that I get a kick out of is not looking at the sales receipts at the end of the day and seeing, well, we made some money today, even though that is important, is when a little kid will come up to me with her mom and she'll say to me, you know, I used to have your milkshakes when I went to Case. Now, this is my daughter. I want her to meet the real Tommy. And you know what? These shakes are still good. And the kid says, I love these shakes, or I love the- Oh, I love this. I love that. There's nothing that is like what driven me for 40 years. I mean, people say, you've been in a business for 40 years, cooking on that line for 40 years. I said, yep. And I love it still. I said, well, today I stopped loving it. It's the day I'm gonna stop doing it. Because the deal is, is that even though everyone has a bad day, like, whether you're at work or whatever, home, and then I'm not gonna say every day I'm all smiles. But just to be able to do what I want to do, come to work, usually in cutoffs, just have a great bunch of people around me. And to do it for 40 years, in a business where most people don't last, they're lucky if they last two or three years. And just to be able to do it and have that bond with the community is just unbelievably satisfying. And the compliments from the customers and sometimes the complaints from the customers, where you learn from. But for the most part, those compliments and those repeat customers come back. I just. I'm back in town for one day. We came straight from the airport, and we have to have this or this or this. And you just say, yes, thank you so much. You know, and it's not because I'm going to make money off that person. It's never been about the money, but the money follows that. The money- When you have something that's sort of deep inside you that's positive, that you really want to do, and you really are happy that people love what they have, the money follows it. It's just a natural course, because really, I succeeded strictly by accident. There's just no way I should still be in business, but because I listened to the customers and what they wanted. If someone came in and they said they wanted- Mike Keenan, he used to work at a store called. His nickname was Spike. That's why it was Spiked Hummus on the menu. He worked at the store. He says, I want a hummus, but I want to put some of your homemade barbecue sauce on it and some olives and some cheddar cheese, and put a dollop of sour cream on the top of it. Where are you going to go get that? There's no else. So we, by listening to the customers, we found a niche that no one could have taught me. I had no chef training. I'm not a chef. I'm a grunt, short-order cook that learned to cook a few things from my mom and from other people that worked with me. But the nice part about it is if someone went to spike dummies, they're coming to Tommy's and with the health food stuff, trying to get things that are healthy for people that are vegetarian. My whole thrust of the restaurant was to try and have something for a family, because back then, the hippies were the vegetarians, and the parents were either meat eaters or they cared about vegetarian food, too. But there's only one other place to get vegetarian food. That was Genesis, which was another co-op restaurant where 18 people owned it and worked there. And they lived off of that restaurant. And people go there, they have vegetarian food. We basically have the same menu since we've had since 1972, with things added to it as things came to my light, like tempeh, seitan, things like that, all are meat substitute items. And to be able to offer things to people that now that the hippies are grown up and they have kids that want to go through McDonald's or whatever, but the parents don't want to have something that's healthy. And we pride our stuff and even the stuff for the kids is healthy, too. But we don't shove anything down anybody's throat saying, well, you can't have it. They said, why do you have meat on the menu? I said, well, two reasons. One, because I want to stay in business, and two, because I want a family to come out, and if someone's vegetarian, they're going to have something to eat because they want to eat that. And someone that's a meat eater is going to have that because they want to eat it. Nobody is forced to eat something because they had to go with their family somewhere they don't really want to be. Everyone has what they want and leaves happy and are very pleased with what they got. And I think that's the whole thrust of how we started, and we're able to stay alive because of it. And in the meantime, I'm able to see families come in over the years and watch them. I just saw a family come in. The two doctors that are podiatrist professors at the podiatry school that used to be downtown. Now it's out in Twinsburg I think. Their kids were just little until last Sunday. They came in and they're bringing their kids in, and it's just like to see that. And do you remember when they first came in and they're bringing their next generation in because they love the experience and they love the feed. That's our family time. Where do we go for a family time? And to be a part of that and to see these people grow and to get Christmas cards from them and have them send me things from all over the world. Tommy, I tried this shake over here in Paris. Uh-uh. Doesn't cut it. Yours is still the best or stuff like that. It's just like, I'll do cartwheels in my mind, because the deal is, there's no money that can replace that. And that has been the driving force over the years to keep me going.

Heidi Fearing [01:35:22] I have two more questions.

Tommy Fello [01:35:23] Okay. That's fine.

Heidi Fearing [01:35:25] But they're short ones.

Tommy Fello [01:35:26] That's fine.

Heidi Fearing [01:35:27] Could you talk just a little bit when you got your first bike from Pee Wee's, or that bike?

Tommy Fello [01:35:30] Oh, yeah, yeah. My brother Bob and I, we didn't come from a very rich family. Most of the kids, after going to St. Ann's, went to Cathedral Latin or St. Ignatius, but we couldn't really afford that. We went to Roosevelt and Heights high public schools, which are great, but most of the people from St. Ann's were able to send their kids to private schools. We didn't really have a whole bunch of money. And so when we were going to get this bike, we were just like, so happy. It was a Rollfast. Red and silver. Just a regular one-speed bike that you put the brakes back, didn't have any fancy stuff, was just straight a Rollfast. I remember the name of it. Red with silver fenders. And you would think that it was like a Rolls-Royce, the way we treated that thing. We were just head over heels. And I remember going to Pee Wee and buying that bike and the specialness of it. First of all, it was a bike. All of our friends had bikes. We didn't have a bike, and we would share it. And so we became more. more one with our friends, as you put it. And we had the best time with that thing, and it was the simplest thing there was. It wasn't anything fancy about it. It was just something that was your first bike and loving it and just- I shared it with my brother Bob, but it was like it was mine and we had a great time with it.

Heidi Fearing [01:37:03] And CoventrYard.

Tommy Fello [01:37:04] CoventrYard. Well, CoventrYard, believe it or not, was almost what forced me to close. They came in, Lou Zipkin, I might write his name down, too, so you can talk to him. He came in and about, let's see, seventies, probably '74, '75. He came in and built CoventrYard, which was right where the in on Coventry is. There used to be apartments up above it. That building burned down and stuff, but there's still apartments above it. And Louis Zipkin, who wanted to do the- He was a developer. He wanted to do some neat shops and so to complement the other shops, like Bill Jones and Cargo and other ones. But he had a whole new concept of doing it because he traveled the world and seen different things. He was a young, very aggressive real estate person and wanted to put some nice- He had some really nice shops going there. There was Elephant's Trunk, which was run by the guy that used to own Mad Greek. And then there was the mad Greek. That was where the first store was, down in the basement of that. There was the Glass Llama. There was Russell from Uncle Russ Special from Tommy's, who had his jewelry store there. Very classy jewelry. He studied in England and was doing all these sort of special rings and stuff. There was- I'm trying to think of some of the other stores there, but there was a lot of really cool stores. The only problem was he needed my space to finish the mall. So it was called CoventrYard Mall. And he wanted me to move out back into where there was something. He put Rocco's market back in there eventually, but there was an empty store. I didn't really want to move back there. And see, when I first started in '72, the rent was really, really cheap. My rent per month was $250 a month. But we could barely make that back then. It was just- There was just no. There was no business, and money was cheaper, obviously. A new car was like a thousand, $1900 or something. So I kept paying this $250, the whole lease. And here Louis came up. He says, you don't have a lease. I said, yes, I do, I got a lease. He goes, no, it's not recorded properly, and we're going to want to move you out to the back. So my mom, who worked with me, she was a jeweler at Higbee's. She would come down and she'd help me make specials. And so we lived on Wilton. We would make the baba, for example, but we make four eggplants on a little four-burner stove in our basement, and that would last us for a couple days, the eggplant from that. Now we go through like twelve cases of that a week. But she'd make those four little eggplants and bring them down, and we'd mix them up down there. And she cooked a falafel there because we didn't have a fryer at the restaurant, so she'd cook a little bag of falafel and that would last us like two or three days. Now we have an automated machine that you have to make trays and trays and trays for every single day's use. So he would, he came and my mom was there. She didn't like him even to come into the store. She was- You can't do that to my son. He's a hardworking, you know, there all the time, like, oh, mom, please. But you know how moms can be. So we got to the point where we're gonna- We're gonna lose our- Can I get this real quick?

Heidi Fearing [01:40:28] Yeah, definitely.

Tommy Fello [01:40:29] Let's see what this. [answers phone call] Hello? Hi. Yes. [recording pauses and resumes]

Heidi Fearing [01:40:41] Oh, that's no fun.

Tommy Fello [01:40:42] It's for the whole- It's for the whole block. It isn't just for me. Oh, what were we talking about? I can't remember.

Heidi Fearing [01:40:47] The CoventrYard and how-

Tommy Fello [01:40:49] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He wanted- So we're paying $250 a month rent. He said, my rent's gonna be 1250. To me, it was like a death sentence. Because remember at that point, I wasn't making any money. I mean, I was lucky living at home and we're selling very little bit of stuff. And to me, not knowing business, thank God, I know a little bit better today, but still learn every day of my life. At that point, it was like a death sentence. Boy, was there an uproar. The street- He became the villain of the district. And even people are always writing bad things about him because he's trying to force poor little [inaudible]. And there was a Donovan special, was one of the Simon sisters. And their dad owned Buddy Simon Signs on Carnegie. Well, he would, every- The neat thing whenever you drove down Carnegie, which I would drive down every day to go to the market, 40th Street Market, to buy vegetables and stuff, he would change the signs every month to say neat things. Well, he wrote a poem about Zipkin saying that he was a horrible man for trying to close Tommy's Coventry location. And all these thousands of people saw it. So he became the villain. And it's funny, I laugh now because we sit on the special improvement board now together. And, you know, I said, my mom would be rolling over in her grave if she knew I did projects with you now. But, you know, to me, it was like when CoventrYard came in there, if the rate of square footage rental on the street was $2 a square foot, he was going to raise it to like $7 a square foot. And to me, that was going to put merchants out of business, including myself. So. And Arabica was just starting back there. Carl Jones had the store there in the basement behind us, right next to Mad Greek. And so all these people were willing to pay this higher price, but I wasn't. I wasn't- Not only was not willing, I don't think I was able to. At that point, I didn't know how I was going to do it. So it became a nemesis to me. And when my lease was up, I basically got booted out. They had a terrific- George and them had a huge closing-up party, farewell party for Tommy's at the movie theater. I saw the plaque where hundreds of people signed. There had to be over 500 people at this thing. They showed the Space Odyssey 2001 eas the movie. And we had party, we had food, everyone had a great time. And then I went to see Mister Ross to see if he had a space that was open down the street. And sure enough, where the Coventry Cafe was, that fellow was going to retire Mister Fasciano. And I was able to cut a deal with him for $600 to go in there and fix it up. So, see, the amount I was going to pay in rent still wasn't anywhere near what I was going to have to pay Louis. And so for me on the business move, it was great, because as I look back on it, though, even though at the time I thought, oh, my God, and tears are flowing, I wondered what the hell am I going to do? I worked so hard on this, and I can't afford to do this. And everyone was real positive. But it forced me to take a look at what I was doing. And what was happening is that there wasn't a future in that drugstore and that soda fountain. There was a future in the food part of it. Because at that time, Revco, which is now CVS, was doing to the mom and pop drug stores what Walmart and Home Depot are doing to the local record stores, hardware stores. Basically, when Revco started, or CVS, as they call it now, they were selling aspirin and band Aids cheaper than I bought them for, and I supposed to mark them up 30%. So what I would do, and this sort of endeared me to the neighborhood, too, I would go to Revco, buy three Band Aids and three aspirin, cross off their price and mark up my price. And I was honest with the customers. I tell them I bought this at Revco, but I marked it up because it's cheaper than I could buy it for. And they just loved the fact that I was honest with them and told them. But in my mind, like, I'm a real smart business, but I knew there's no way I'm going to make a living on this. So the closing of that store helped me- CoventrYard, it helped me, or forced me to grow and to become more of a restaurant and less of a drugstore and to be able to hire more people, do more volume and expand my business to the fact where when we closed, we had taken out some of the bookshelves, I mean, the school supplies shelves already. So we had seven seats at the counter and we had maybe seven tables eventually at our first location, where the Inn on Coventry is now. And when we moved down the street, we added almost 60 more seats. So to me it was a gigantic step. And I remember the first day being open. I am usually, I did everything myself, right? So here I am opening this new place, and everyone is so happy to see me, and I'm so happy to see them, but I'm supposed to be making the food and I'm supposed to be training new people. And I remember that was one of the hardest days of my life, doing that and saying to myself, what did I do? Oh my God, I'm trying to get all this done by the end of the day. Working almost 18 hours, I'm about ready to go home, and the water heater explodes and there's water everywhere. Not explosion like a damaging, but the glass liner broke and there was water everywhere. So I think I got maybe 2 hours worth of sleep before I was supposed to come back and go to work. And so there's times like that where you say, what are you doing? Are you an idiot? And still you're not making much money doing it. You know, you're trying to get started. You spent a lot of money to refix it up, but you knew you had to get going because if you didn't, man, you wouldn't be able to get it back open. And the customers came in floods, I mean, tons of them. And it was so hard because I was torn between want to be friends and intermingle with them, yet I was trying to run the business and cook and train people at the same time. So it's a gigantic step for me to learn that it isn't like it is in the old store. There isn't going to be as much face time with the customers, which I missed. But there was going to be a better product given out, there was going to be more volume given out and we're going to be able to meet more exciting people and grow with my business. So it was- CoventrYard forced me to do a gigantic step in my life and in my business life. And I'm thankful for it. And I told Louis, to this day, thank you. You did the best thing ever to me. I still don't want to pay that rent you charged me, but what you did forced me to grow, and I really appreciate it. So that's what happened.

Cleveland Heights

Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.