q&a with jonathan sin-jin satayathum

There’s a joke in here somewhere about how many Jonathons does it take to open a restaurant… Well in the case of The Greenhouse Tavern – three. Jonathon Sawyer, of course, and Johnathan Seeholzer and Jonathan Sin-jin Satayathum.

I first met Sin-Jin last year at the  Brooklyn Beer Dinner with chef Sawyer. And since we’ve had a lot of great conversations about food, the restaurant and our city. Were a lucky bunch here in Cleveland. Yes, we have wonderful chefs and restaurants, but we also have great people designing the atmospheres we like to flock to, helping run the day-to-day and working towards the bigger picture, in large and small ways. We’re a passionate bunch that believe in our city. And Sin-jin is just one example of that. (And he has lots to say – he also wins for longest Cleveland Foodie Q&A to date Unfortunately I had to omit a few questions – perhaps those will be for a later post.)

1. What was your role with The Greenhouse Tavern? I am the principal designer and sustainability director. That encompasses a lot of different aspects of the project.  The Greenhouse Tavern is a truly unique project that follows a somewhat unconventional process.  Currently I, freelance as : : designspace; however, for all you architecture and design firms, I am open to new opportunities!

This was an incredible Collaboration between so many talented and passionate individuals. Most importantly, for a year I worked seven days a week with Jonathon Sawyer, Amelia Zatik Sawyer, Jonathan Seeholzer, Everest Curley, Jesse Sawyer – and later Brian Goodman & Keri Garcia. None of this could have happened without that. And there are so many others we depended on daily (like the whole Sawyer family). You know who you are! But back to the question at hand. My role has been comprised of four parts: Interior, Exterior, Sustainability and Representation.

2. What’s the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative and what’s in it for Clevelanders?  In August, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson invited over 600 people from diverse professions and all sectors of business. We worked for three exciting/grueling days to develop teams and plans to reinvigorate the greater Cleveland area. Rebuilding our economy with the engine of sustainable business, local food and green technology and manufacturing. Jonathon Sawyer and myself participated and had an unprecedented opportunity to meet great people who are already doing this good work. Bottom line on this is ‘Triple’ – we rebuild our local economy and create jobs, we fix our beloved Lake Erie and our local ecology and we become a center for innovation and green business.

3. How did you get into design? Well my journey to this point has a lot of twists and turns. I was into art history, ceramics and photography at lovely Lakewood High School. Always interested in DIY fix-ups and using tools at home.  I went to college at RIT and majored in photo illustration and minored in environmental studies. I received a lot of traditional design training on top of the photo core. I moved to Colorado and worked as a photographer. Hated it. So my passion became a drag and I was lost. So I took a bit of a ‘detour’ and ended up at Great Lakes Brewing Co. for the better part of a decade (started as a part-time server/bartender, to marketing manager then drafted as a GM). During this time I got very involved in the sustainability initiatives with the owners Patrick & Dan Conway. We started a lot of great projects together. Very far ahead of the Cleveland green curve at that great company. Nobody knows the trials and tribulations of implementation on that scale. Staggering. Also got more and more into renovation of my home. All these elements started to tell me I was being called away from restaurant operations.

So during all this I came to the revelation that I wanted to get into design of interior spaces and sustainability as a career. Started school part-time and took a job as GM of Johnny Mango in Ohio City. They were getting ready to open a second Mango in Willoughby and wanted my expertise so they could concentrate on the new unit. The idea was that my hours would be more reasonable than GLBC (think 75hrs/week down to 50hrs/week) and I could still go to school. Did that for about 9 months and realized it wasn’t going to work. So I left there and went to school full-time, working nights at Lolita. Found a great program at a small, private design school here in Lakewood/Cleveland – Virginia Marti College of Art & Design. Was good fit for me and didn’t cost what CIA would have!

And that is the roundabout way I met Jonathon Sawyer and Jonathan Seeholzer. We were all working at Lolita together. During the establishment of Bar Cento we discussed me doing that interior, but it wasn’t in the cards. Almost immediately after Cento launched, we started the planning of what was going to be called ‘The GastroPub‘ but eventually we got more ambitious and it snowballed into the concept of ‘The Greenhouse Tavern.’

8. Can we still find you at Lolita? Yep – until this illustrious career of mine takes off fully, I am heading up the bartenders over at Lolita.  I must say that it is a very joyous place to work. Great food and drink and the staff is phenomenal. Plus, I would possibly never met ‘the Jonathans’ and built GHT if I hadn’t been working at Lolita!

 9. First thing you notice when you walk into a restaurant? The look on the faces of: 1. the patrons and 2. the staff. That is the sole determinant of how successful the space is functioning. Is it making you excited? Is it a place to work that meets your needs and energizes you as an operator? Do you feel like you are in the midst of a ‘place‘ not just in some restaurant?

 My alternate answer is the entryway. Does the entrance and lobby immediately suck you into the ‘feel’ of the restaurant? Does it set the stage for meal and drinks you will enjoy? To me, my rule is that the top spot that people will gauge the quality of a restaurant is the restrooms. Think about it, it may be subconscious or glaringly apparent – but we all do it. This is a golden opportunity to really do the most interesting and sexy things and truthfully, this is the most often bungled and/or ignored areas of restaurants and bars. Let me tell you how many top notch eateries have restrooms that range from ‘snore’ to ‘maybe I should rethink my dinner order…

 10. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland?  Wow Michelle, this is harder than the LEED AP exam!  I have to cop-out and say that I have a Hall Of Fame, but can’t pick just one. It is too dependent on too many variables – season, occasion, day of week, craving, mood, company…

I mean I adore crab legs and coronas at Pickle Bill’s in July. Would I go in February, nah.

 Some of my tops for both atmosphere and food include: The Greenhouse Tavern and Lolita (lest I be taken out back and shot!), Three Birds (inside and outside, again that courtyard is amazing — and that too is designed to the ninesfolks), Tartine, Momocho, Lopez, Luxe, summer brunch or lunch on the patio at Wine Bar Rocky River, Sweet Mellissa’s (still tweaking the new interior – but a nice, sustainable food reinvention of Max’s Deli), L’Albatros, Sergio’s & Sarava, Empress Taytu and Ty Fun.

11. What are some places Clevelanders should check out for great finds for their home? Well damn – you want me to give away the keys to the kingdom! Depending on your tastes and your budget:

For the vintage and the fanciful: Can’t beat Lorain Ave and Larchmere Blvd., especially Reincarnation Vintage Design (hello Ron and Cyndy) // For new and sexy but affordable, check out my friends Tim and Scott at DuoHOME, Danielle at Room Service and the others on Detroit Shoreway. // Devout Home in Rocky River (hello Lorelei and Chris) is super swanky and world eclectic with a lot of Spanish/Latin chic. // Our eco-brethren at Form2Design and APOC (A Piece of Cleveland), Planet Green all have one-of-a-kind pieces with a twist.

Now we are not talking about Crate & Barrel or IKEA prices here in most cases, but you have to shop wisely – you can still build slowly with quality pieces.

For some real finds for renovations and with a great price tag and social impact, check out the ReStore from Cleveland’s Habitat For Humanity. I used a great deal of floor tile from them in The Greenhouse Tavern. They really have a bit of everything. Along these lines you check Rosby Resource Recycling and Kurtz Bros. for reclaimed building materials.

And please don’t forget ZeroLandfill Cleveland – items for artists, teachers and gardeners that you would never know existed. All discarded samples from interior designers, architects and Vendors.

12. What restaurant do you miss? I don’t know if I have a lot that I miss. It is more a lament for places, in my humble opinion – and for my tastes – we don’t really have stellar examples of here in Cleveland (yet!).

I am a sushi fanatic, and I think we have some great sushi chefs here, but am still looking for the whole package – a place that is truly chic and has the invention and quality all in one. I have seen some real pulse-pounding establishments in other major food cities – we need to get after this here. I love the quaintness of Ginza, the food is very good at the Sakura’s, I know the quality of Pacific East and Shuhei. I think Sushi Rock was on the right track, but the ‘culture’ of W. 6th may have insinuated itself into it and rendered it ‘less effective’ for me. Matsu is promising.I think more Mexican places with personality and panache are in order, on the level of Topolobampo & Frontera GrillMomocho is kick-ass and is really on that track and Lopez is a ball to visit. Again these are both great inside and outside. I guess I would just love to see more!