CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cleveland Chef, Rocco Whalen, wants to take the helm at the West Side Market.
Whalen is the owner and chef at Fahrenheit in Tremont, with another location in Charlotte, N.C. He also has restaurant branches in Quicken Loans Arena and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
He was born in Cleveland and said “some of my best memories are from the West Side Market when I was a little boy, and going from stall to stall.”
He wants to use his expertise to partner with the city to bring vendors back to the struggling market and make it a destination for shoppers.
“I just want to help the market get better,” said Whalen. “I don’t want to see anyone else leave the market because I think it’s a detriment to the city. I can tell you there’s been a handful of people that have left.”
Dozens of other vendors have left, due to high rent, lack of traffic and maintenance.
The market is facing a record number of vacancies. Most recently, Turczyk’s Meats, a tenant of 36 years, decided to call it quits and blamed the city.
“If vendors are leaving, that means there’s a problem with their profitability. We want them to be profitable, we want them to succeed, we want the market to continue to grow,” said Whalen.
Whalen wants to run the market for at least four years and give the landmark “the opportunity it deserves.”
He said he would be open to buying it, but instead, he’d like to partner with the city.
“Give people a reason to go, play, stay and spend. That’s all I’m looking to do.”
His idea: create an advisory board. Make the market a destination with assets like hot food stalls, a brewery and brew tours and entertainment.
“It’s a great venue, why wouldn’t some bigger companies want to have a Christmas party here?”
He wants Cleveland to continue growing. He said, “you go to Milwaukee, you go to Cincinnati, you go to Charlotte, you go to some of these markets and they have wonderful community food halls. Why can’t we?”
He’s reached out to Councilman Kerry McCormack. He’s hoping the mayor and the city will “come to the table and at least listen.”
When he first tweeted the idea at the beginning of the year he got enthusiastic responses, with some vendors saying they’d consider moving into the market if Whalen gets involved.