by Tommy Carosielli
(Plain Press, May 2017) In the hustle and bustle of Ohio City, a small building stuck between two popular businesses may be lost in the shuffle. But diving into the history of the building at 1822-1826 W 25th St. provides a peak into Ohio City’s interesting history. Local architectural historian Craig Bobby estimates the building was constructed sometime between 1896 and 1912.
The structure is as humble as its beginnings. The simple one-story red brick building glossed with a pale white paint encompassing the front can easily be passed over when scanning the West 25th Street landscape. Simply enough, the building is bland. There is no sign looking to illuminate the street-front. Only a small stand in front, “A-Tek Computer Services, Inside Taubman Law” at 1826 W. 25th Street, and a sign for Pizza Whirl at 1822 W. 25th.
But the current state of this building is no reflection on the history of 1822-1826 West 25th St.
The building first appears in City of Cleveland cross section directories in 1930, as Friedlander, Inc.
Friedlander was known as “The Ladies’ Furnishings.” It was a women’s department store and from the looks of research was the top of the line for women’s furnishings. The space, however, appeared too humble for the family-owned store, as it moved down the street to 2036 W 25th St. in 1932 to expand the store.
In 1938, the building was home to Variety Café, the start of a long history with the food industry. From 1938 until 1977, the building in some way or another served Ohio City as a small restaurant that changed hands a few times. The Variety Café, the innovator, lasted until 1942.
In 1943, The Variety Café was then bought by Theo Meconite. He opened Theo Meconite’s Beer & Restaurant. Meconite held the second longest tenured business at 1826 W 25th, with only eight years in business. The small tap house thrived as World War II endured. However, as the decade turned, the small diner began to decline, and Meconite’s was forced to sell, making way for the most fruitful business to inhabit the building.
After a year of vacancy, the Welcome Inn Café Restaurant opened its doors in 1953. The Café began the golden age of the establishment, having moved from down the street at 1811. Upon opening, the Welcome Inn Café Restaurant became a cornerstone of the neighborhood. It was open for more than 20 years. In 1976 the Welcome Inn finally closed its doors.
Then, in 2009, with a fresh coat of navy blue paint with yellow trim around the windows, a former college football player at the University of Miami, Johnny Smatana, stepped through the doors of 1826 W 25th and called it home to his business, Johnnyville Slugger, now known as Johnnyville Woods. The custom baseball bat shop staked home to, “The Greatest Man Cave East of the Mississippi.”
The storefront could not be more different than it is today. Yes, the paint was different, but Johnnyville Woods was characterized by a giant, oversized baseball cap crowning the store like a gargantuan star atop a Christmas tree. It was bold, noticeable, and fun. Big, bold bubble letters stretched across the front and let everyone know exactly where to find the self-proclaimed “Batman of W 25th.”
A business that started in a barn, Johnnyville Slugger replaced a small deli, Gateway Food Mart, owned by two Arabic men, “When I moved in I was still paying their back taxes. I’m not sure what happened with them. I had an opportunity, so I jumped at it.”
Smatana is never one to pull punches. Quick with a joke and brutally honest, he greets you with a smile and a hearty handshake. But Smatana then butted heads with the man who owned the building, Tom Gillisee, and elected to move his business in 2013 to his current home in the E. 5th Street Arcade, where “The Great Mancave East of the Mississippi” still exists today.
After a year of vacancy, Taubman Law moved into the building. With nearly 50 years of experience between them, Bruce and Brian Taubman look to serve citizens of the greater Akron/Cleveland area in manners of personal injury, medical malpractice, workman’s compensation, and employee discrimination. They thrive on the honesty and caring attitude that has kept Taubman Law strong since 1976. However, because they recently moved into 1826 W 25th, the property is still being developed to fit their personal look. With only a piece of paper in a sheet protector taped to the door to label the address as theirs, it is readily apparent that the firm is more focused on clients than appearance.
In the storefront at 1822 W. 25th, just north of Taubman Law in the same building, a new business, Pizza Whirl, has opened. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office indicates the company is registered in the name of Ahmad Douglas.
If you were to walk West 25th today, you probably wouldn’t give the building a second thought, but the lineage of this location reflects Ohio City’s culinary history long before the neighborhood became branded as the Artisan Neighborhood. You never know what you’ll find when you dive into history.