If you’re looking for someone to thank for the cheap, mobile foodie goodness that is Dim and Den Sum, the credit in many ways goes to Chris Hodgson’s ex-fiancé and now girlfriend.
“When she broke up with me, I had this crazy, borderline insane drive and didn’t stop,” Hodgson explains. “That experience catapulted me into all of this. She even pushed me to go to culinary school.”
At 25, Hodgson is working on his second food truck, which will debut this spring and offer burgers, fries and shakes, and his first restaurant: Sum Place, which is slated to open May 1.
“I think I’m the youngest restaurateur in town, and I can say restaurateur because I now own three things,” he says with a big grin. “Yeah, I’m a little terrified.”
If the mighty success of his first truck is any indication, he shouldn’t be too scared.
“I’m so grateful for the amazing support and help I’ve received,” he says. “For the restaurant, I’m partnering with some really smart people and we’re going to bring something to Clevelanders that they have never experienced before.”
Sum Place, a name he says he picked because he wants to mess with drunk people, is going in the old Grind building on W. 25th in Ohio City next to where Crop Bistro is moving.
“I wanted to bring the concept of the truck inside,” Hodgson says. “Think a high-end Chipotle, minus the Mexican food. We’ll have B Spot-type burgers, pressed sandwiches and other street food. And we’ll have a $19 version of the $99 lobster and foie gras burger.”
Inside the restaurant, there will be chalk board walls, hanging drift wood, work from local graffiti artists. Sum Place will also have live Twitter and Facebook feeds streaming throughout the restaurant, food runners running around screaming your name when your order is ready, a mock Facebook profile for every local purveyor, a giant horseshoe bar, concrete floors and hand-blown red glass lights.
“We’re keeping this as close to home as possible, using a ton of local people to bring the space together – as well the ingredients once we’re open,” he adds.
And learning from an ongoing dilemma he faced all summer long, there will be a huge walk-in cooler so they will never run out of food.
“Oh yeah, and we’ll have a giant, 3D octopus sign out front, Hodgson adds. “I want to beat Melt’s sign; that’s a killer sign.”
The restaurant will serve food daily until 3 a.m. For the late night crowd he’s expecting, particularly the service industry, Hodgson will serve food out of a food cart right outside that will be part of the space itself.
And while there will surely be a fair share of drunk people that do happen to stumble inside, he’s really trying to create a family place first – then let the rest in when they vacate, he adds.
And with all of this happening, perhaps what is most impressive about this young chef is not what he does in the kitchen, but what happens out of it. Hodgson has traveled to approximately 16 countries for the sole purpose to help those in need. When he was just 12, he took his first solo trip to Thailand to work in an orphanage.
“I love to cook, but helping others is my real passion,” he says. “I have been blessed my whole life. I’ve never once cared about the money, but about helping others.”
And he’s using his new restaurant to continue helping. He is teaming up with Goodwill and will take in 3 ex cons who will go through counseling and work with Hodgson to learn about the restaurant and culinary world. He’ll train them, teach them then help place them.
“Most of these people get out and go back to jail,” he says. I want to give them some hope, passion for something and a little help and maybe we can change their lives.”
“I’ve been this way my whole life, my whole family has,” he explains. You can say that drive to help others also led him back home to Cleveland. After moving away with his family post high school, he realized he was tired of hearing people calling his city a depressing place and wanted to move back home and change the city.
And in many ways, he has. He is credited with bringing the mobile food truck scene here and clearing the path for a whole fleet of trucks we’re sure to enjoy come spring. And there’s a lot more goodwill left in him. At just 25, I have a feeling we’ve just seen a glimpse as to what this young restaurateur is capable of.