Some might call this contemporary diner a blast from the past or a spot right out of Bradley County history.
We refer, of course, to The Spot, a tiny yet ever-so-popular hangout for any with a hankering for old-time burgers, anytime laughs among a group of buddies or just a quick lunch to soften the growls from an empty stomach.
The ’50s-style diner reopened in late May in conjunction with the summer’s first monthly MainStreet Cleveland Cruise-In car show. From all accounts, customer response has already been strong, especially from the throng of Cleveland old-timers — many of whom work or regularly visit the downtown area — who are well familiar with the eatery’s history.
These are the Cleveland natives who remember The Spot’s long-ago opening in 1937 when it was known as Orange Teaco in commemoration of its signature fruit drink called an “Orange Teaco.” At the time, the little business was known for its collection of beverages like sodas and assorted fruit drinks.
Like most homegrown eateries, The Spot rode the wild roller coaster of patron preference which is always influenced heavily — regardless of location, whether downtown or in a mall or on the open road — by economic conditions and growing levels of competition.
Sadly, The Spot eventually closed its doors in 1985. They remained shuttered for two decades until Cleveland businessman, philanthropist and history guru Allan Jones reopened it in 2005. Jones later sold it to another familiar face in Cleveland business — Nicholas Lillios, who is also a guardian of Bradley County and downtown Cleveland history.
Lillios kept it open until earlier this year when he locked the doors, but the eatery didn’t stay closed for long. Eric Lacea, the son of Martin Lacea who owns the Little Diner on First, has bought the business with hopes of keeping it as a viable downtown eatery for another 20 or 30 years.
True to his word, Eric Lacea is preserving the history of The Spot, but he is also bringing in some new with menu additions like Cuban and Philly steak sandwiches. He wants to enhance The Spot’s image as a burger bar, but also wants to develop a new tradition as a tiny restaurant known for its selection of “crazy” hamburger topping combinations.
Having worked with his father at the Little Diner on First, Lacea is no stranger to the food industry and customer service. Over time he will continue to restore the eatery’s historic ambiance while blending some new with the old on a simple menu that he hopes will bring back longtime customers while welcoming in new faces in cozy spaces.
The return of Lee University students to campus this fall is also expected to beef up his burger business.
In the interest of keeping downtown history alive and a longtime favorite open as a viable entrepreneurship, we hope the “awesome” response that Lacea received to The Spot’s reopening remains just as awesome in weeks, months and years to come.
All hometowns should have a familiar little dive where customers drop in for just the right taste of something good.
All downtowns should have a popular little corner eatery where anyone, especially those who work and shop on everyday Main Street, can stop by for a quick bite and a soothing, cold drink.
Cleveland is no exception.
Certainly, our community boasts many fine restaurants with diverse selections in food. Each has an appreciated niche in taste bud titillation. But this is The Spot, a downtown landmark whose welcoming doors and hand-painted windows open into a breath of time and air of experience.
We encourage Cleveland patrons to visit, if not for the taste then for the history.