n the late '90s, the Tremont neighborhood just south of Downtown Cleveland was better known for bodegas and break-ins than bistros. While a handful of fine-dining options existed elsewhere -- largely in the city center and affluent suburbs -- Tremont was still referred to as the "South Side," home to blue-collar dives that opened at first light to serve thirsty third-shifters fresh off the clock at nearby steel mills.
When Chef Michael Symon opened Lola in 1997 at the corner of Literary and Professor in the heart of Tremont, he set in motion a series of events that few at the time could have predicted, impacting not just his city, but an entire region.
Back then, the neighborhood was beginning to show some small signs of life, but it was a far cry from the Roaring '20s, when 35,000 residents packed every square inch of that inner-city community. But in the wake of numerous shuttered factories, the rise of suburbs, and the construction of an interstate that cleaved the neighborhood into fourths, those numbers dwindled to less than 10,000, sending countless properties into disrepair.