Chef Eric Heath of Cleveland-Heath Calls Edwardsville "An Awesome Place"
|Cleveland-Heath in downtown Edwardsville, Illinois | Jennifer Silverberg|
Edwardsville's size appealed to the couple. Though as Napa Valley residents they'd enjoyed many visits to San Francisco, they weren't sure if they could fit into a large city's restaurant scene.
"We love food, and we love people," Heath says. "We just want to put out what we think is good. But there's so much cutthroat behavior in San Francisco, and people spend so much money to open a place, and then they get knocked down.
"We believe in our talents, but we know there are so many people out there that are so talented. We didn't know where we'd fit in that realm.
"So we thought a small community would be nice. She's from Bethalto. Salt Lake is kind of -- to me -- a small town. We just have that get-along vibe with small towns.
"There's so much potential here. People really, really, really want to eat here, they want to go out and eat. There's no traffic. It's a fun place to be."
Yet Heath and Cleveland weren't sure Edwardsville would work. "Fond was a place, Peel [Wood Fired Pizza] was a place -- we didn't know if there was room for us. And then Jenny got a call from her sister saying Fond had closed. We literally just dropped everything and put in our two weeks' notice at work and then drove out.
"It was three weeks to get here, and six weeks to open."
That breakneck pace hasn't slowed down. "We're worked to the bone now," Heath admits. Yet that hasn't stopped the couple from pondering further endeavors.
"We've thought about a lot things," Heath says. "We've wanted to do a fried-chicken joint. We've wanted to do a kind of like a Cleveland-Heath but more bar-directed and small plates only.
"There's a million things we've thought about doing, and it would be so nice to do it in Edwardsville." He also allows that the City of St. Louis has appeal, too. "It's such an awesome place, and there are so many buildings -- some are abandoned, and some are inexpensive -- and great neighborhoods everywhere."
In the moment, though, Heath is happiest with how Cleveland-Heath has grown over the past year and a half.
"We're so, so proud of the people who work for us," he says. "We have people who are going so far out of their way to do the right thing, and they listen and learn. Within our walls we've created a little food culture of pepple who can suggest things without being hypercritical. That's the thing that seems to be working: We've hired a great staff. That's it. That's the thing we love the most."
This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Eric Heath of Cleveland-Heath. Part two, a Q & A with Heath, will appear Thursday. Part three, a recipe from Heath, will be available on Friday.