CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Fat Tuesday came emblazoned with just a little more "Celebre La Vida" this week as Barrio Tacos held a grand opening at its newest location on Cedar-Fairmount.
As owner Sean Fairbairn points out, "barrio" means "neighborhood" in Spanish.
And he's been looking for a neighborhood on the east side for a few years now.
This included possibilities in Coventry Village as well as the Cedar-Lee district in Cleveland Heights, Fairbairn noted earlier.
Then he saw an opportunity to "complete the neighborhood" at the top of Cedar Hill when it became clear last year that the Mad Greek restaurant was closing after 40 years.
The outlay and subsequent transformation to a "Day of the Dead" interior motif took a little longer than usual, but Cleveland Heights Business Development Manager Brian Anderson was impressed with the way the crew from Tremont went about it.
That was where Barrio first opened in 2012, followed by a Lakewood cantina the next year, then both Gateway and Progressive Field in 2015.One of the few remaining and almost recognizable features from the Mad Greek restaurant are the garage bay windows looking out on Cedar-Fairmount in Cleveland Heights.
And one of the three Barrio food trucks was parked on Fairmount Boulevard Tuesday as well.
"They've gotten the process down -- they were out in front figuring out what they needed to do the whole way," Anderson said. "They left no stone unturned, and it shows in the final product."
There is also evidence in the menu, right down to the "Build-your-own-taco" checklist and the Weekend Brunch, among other specials.
Kaye Lowe, executive director for the Cedar-Fairmount Special Improvement District, was also floored with the results.
"We've been anticipating the opening of Barrio for some time and are so pleased and excited to see the eclectic decor and the fantastic menu," Lowe said prior to the Feb. 28 grand opening.
"Barrio will add excitement and interest in the district, attract a younger group and contribute to the vibrancy of the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood," Lowe added.
Anderson believes that a synergy is created "when you get several restaurants together. They feed off each other's energy. And we are reaching a critical mass of activity here."Tremont artist Michael McNamara has basically done all of the interior work for Barrio Tacos, including the newest one in the former Mad Greek restaurant.
City officials continue to work with developers on the "Top of the Hill" project, with a mix of commercial and residential and the possibility of a hotel as well.
"We also keep in mind that a neighborhood takes a team effort," Fairbairn said, noting that he has been meeting with Jake Orosz, a proprietor who has already raised the bar, so to speak, a few doors down at The Fairmount in recent years.
And from the other side, Luna Bakery started in an old antique shop storefront several years ago and has been expanding down the block ever since. A smaller shop is also planned for the Food Hall in the Van Aken District, currently under construction in Shaker Heights.
"We're hoping to bring people out of their houses and into the area by working with the other restaurants," Fairbairn added.
Born and raised in North Olmsted, Fairbairn said he is looking forward to spending more time in Cleveland Heights.
Cleveland Heights Economic Development Director Tim Boland, whose arrival almost coincided with Barrio's plans, last summer, looks forward to that prospect also.
They're adding more vibrancy to Cedar-Fairmount," Boland said. "It certainly builds on the successes the district has had, and this keeps the momentum going -- it's a tremendous addition to the city."Tremont glass artisan John Abbott provides some local color for the new Barrio location in Cleveland Heights.
Fairbairn also noted that a "soft opening" on Monday (Feb. 27) went well.
"Everything went smoothly," Fairbairn said, adding that "the city has been great to work with."
As for the interior, Fairbairn said that was all the work of Tremont artist Michael McNamara.
"We lock him in there, cover up the windows and let him do his thing," Fairbairn said.
He added that some artwork dedicated to Cleveland Heights was done by fellow Tremont glass artisan John Abbott and placed on one of the pillars next to the full-service bar.
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