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Out & About: Aurora thriving with retailers, eateries

by Mike lesko | reporter Published: April 28, 2015 3:21 PM
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There are many locally-owned retailers in Aurora that provide a variety of services, including fine eating. In addition, the sprawling Aurora Farms Premium Outlets offers diverse shopping experiences.

The following are capsules about some of the retail / dining establishments.

PAPOUS TAP & GRILL

It's no surprise who Papous (pronounced "papoose") Tap & Grille is named after.

It is owner and chef John Langos' late father, Steve, who was the original owner of the establishment at 360 Aurora Commons Circle when it was called Steve's Place, opening in 1988.

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John said it means "grandpa" in Greek. Mr. Langos, who died in 2008, "was ecstatic about the name," said his son, who began preparing food when he was about 11 years old.

"My dad had a place called Oliver's in Macedonia," he said. "My parents were always in the business. I grew up in it."

Langos is carrying on the family tradition.

"I've been cooking in this kitchen since 1988," he said. "Before that, I worked for restaurants and seafood houses. Seafood and hand-cut steaks are my specialties. I learned a lot from other professional chefs."

Langos said he tries to do "what everybody else doesn't do, so every day I give customers two to three different specials just to get them interested."

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Those food items could be anything from lobster tail sandwiches to fresh salmon to hand-sliced roast beef.

"I've got eight pounds of fresh crabs coming in," he said recently. "I'll make crabcakes, and beer-battered fish and Alaskan cod, too. I'm getting hungry talking about it."

On Wednesdays and Fridays in the summer, Langos cooks whole turkeys and pigs outside on a hardwood patio. There are slow-roasted ribs, too, plus a full-service bar seven days a week.

"Nobody goes away hungry at Papous," Langos said.

Aurora Farms PREMIUM Outlets

There is no mistaking Aurora Farms Premium Outlets, a colossal combination of 70 retailers in one location on South Chillicothe Road.

"We're proud to offer a welcoming and convenient shopping experience to our guests who travel from near and far," said Lisa Kusner, general manager of the complex and incoming Aurora Chamber of Commerce president. "We love nothing more than seeing smiling faces taking advantage of our everyday savings on name-brand items."

The group of stores sells designer fashions and sportswear, shoes, fine leather and luggage, accessories and jewelry, housewares and home furnishings, plus gifts and specialty items.

"It's truly a destination for shoppers both locally and from out of town," said Sarah Furlow, senior manager / public relations, for Bandy Carroll Hellige, a marketing communications agency.

"We find that a majority of our shoppers come with family and friends, making their visit a fun-filled day out. The numbers rise during the summer, when many families are vacationing, and during the busy holiday seasons."

She said while many shoppers are from Ohio and Pennsylvania, "Aurora Farms serves customers from every corner of the country. The shopping center has a diverse international customer base from Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia."

Aurora Farms was established in 1929 as an auction barn to serve the Amish and Mennonite farmers in the area, Furlow said. In 1986, outlet stores were added, making it Ohio's first outlet center. In 1994, the center underwent a major expansion, bringing it to the size it is today.

Chet Edwards STORE

Mary Sensibello, a buyer and saleswoman at Chet Edwards General Home Furnishings, vividly remembers her uncle, Chet Edwards, who founded the store. Mr. Edwards died in 2004 at age 80.

Sensibello worked alongside Mr. Edwards from the beginning and carries on his traditions. "He was one of a kind," she said. "He loved people."

The building was originally a general store, built in 1832. Mr. Edwards opened the doors at the building at 182 S. Chillicothe Road in 1982.

"We try to get to know our customers," she said. "We've made some wonderful relationships over the years."

The store sells home furnishings that include sofas, tables, chairs, lamps, pictures, mirrors and accessories. It also sells gift items that include ceramic and metal serving pieces, dishes, glassware, linens, candles, paper goods and greeting cards.

"We decorate the store beautifully for the holidays," she said.

Sensibello picks out the majority of the items with help from her mother and sisters.

"We hand select everything we bring into the store," she said. "We like to carry what's new on the market. The building is deceiving from the road. People need to come in and see the beauty of the interior and enjoy this unique shopping experience."

James Place Bar & Bistro

Owner James Mocny was ready for a change regarding his business. So he transformed James Place from a wine bar to a restaurant in August 2014.

"As a wine bar, there was a lot of emphasis of wine," he said of his business, which opened in 2007 at 271 E. Garfield Road. "In retrospect, having just a wine bar was limiting. I wanted to get rid of that stigma."

So Mocny put in a kitchen and hired a chef. The restaurant was launched. "People like the atmosphere," he said. "They want to come in and have dinner. It's been a good move."

Specialties include seafood, short ribs and pot pie plus beer and liquor. Of course, there is still wine.

"It's casually elegant," he said. "It's got a great atmosphere, really cool music and great lighting. It's a hip, upscale place without being intimidating."

Mocny said a lot of people still don't know his place is a restaurant, but he believes things are looking up. "I see new customers every day," he said.

Harman Home Designs

Scott Harman, co-owner of Harman Home Designs with wife Michelle, has been in the tile business for more than 25 years, thanks to his father Roy, who lives in Garrettsville and was a tile setter by trade.

"After being on his knees for many years, Scott took his career into sales," Michelle said. "His love of serving people and helping them to remodel their homes convinced him it was time to branch out and open his own full-service flooring and remodeling store. Now Scott can do what he loves every day.

"We are a full-service flooring and remodeling store," she said. "Big box stores cannot compete with our experience, product knowledge or prices. Most flooring stores do not have the resources to handle a full remodel.

"We can handle every aspect of each job from flooring, drywall, lighting, electric, plumbing, painting and cleaning. We also specialize in custom showers, the type that most companies would not be equipped to handle."

Michelle Harman Home Designs at 1023 N. Aurora Road provides customers with a large selection of premium brand carpet, tile and hardwood flooring, cabinets, counters and more in their showroom located across from Geauga Lake.

"As a home contractor, we specialize in kitchen, bath and basement remodeling and interior design services," she said.

Michelle said according to the latest trends in flooring, "tile that looks like hardwood is in high demand. For homeowners that like the look of wood but have pets and kids, this tile is easier to clean, does not scratch and looks beautiful in kitchens and bathrooms.

"Also in demand is Mohawk's SmartStrand carpet that does not stain, and is perfect for busy families who want to keep their home beautiful."

In the last two years, she said the company has acquired two additional companies -- Complete Carpet Care, a residential and commercial carpet cleaning company specializing in BaneClene technology, known as "the best cleaning system available," she said, and Landmark Stone, a granite, marble and quartz counter top fabrication company.

Mad Jack's Grill & Pub

How did Mad Jack's Grill and Pub get its name? It's simple, said proprietor John Updyke. Mad is for Maddie, his daughter who is a junior at Aurora High School, and Jack is the name of his son, an AHS graduate who is a freshman at Ohio State University.

Both work in the summer at the establishment at 204 S. Chillicothe Road. Maddie works as a hostess and Jack waits on tables.

"I've been in this business since I was a 14," Updyke said. "Working at Gamekeeper's Taverne in Chagrin Falls was my first job."

Updyke was employed at Gamekeeper's for 30 years, 20 of those as general manager.

He left in 2010 and returned to Aurora and opened his own place.

Updyke aims to serve "comfort food with a twist." It can be anything from chicken paprikash in a smoked paprika cream sauce with spaetzle and crispy spinach to Guinness pot pie to macaroni and cheese with peas, roasted peppers and jalapenos.

"We're very happy to be in Aurora because it's our community, and we've already had tremendous support from our friends and the community. We're exceeding our own expectations," he said. "We are well received by the community -- and a lot of people from surrounding areas, too. It's a comfortable environment."

Mad Jack's offers weeknight specials, which include ribs, meat loaf, steak and fish.

When the weather gets warmer, the patio, which is capable of holding about 70 people, will open, and the restaurant plans to host clambakes in the fall.

1815 Tavern AND restaurant

The historic house on the southwest corner of Route 43 and West Pioneer Trail is planned as a restaurant, and its name says a lot about how long it's been around

The 1815 Tavern will be located in the oldest house in Aurora, according to John Updyke, proprietor of Mad Jack's Grill & Pub, who is launching his second restaurant. He said the 1815 Tavern plans to open in early fall.

"It will be a different style of restaurant. It's not going to be comfort food like Mad Jack's," Updyke said. "There will be a lot more farm-to-table food. We'll be buying local produce -- fresh lettuce and tomatoes, local eggs and poultry -- and other local products."

Updyke said the 1815 Tavern will be a bit larger than Mad Jack's. He said he plans for the 1815 Tavern to seat about 75 to 80 people indoors and another 75 to 80 outdoors.

"The 1815 Tavern is on a unique piece of property," he said. "It lends itself well to a beautiful restaurant. It will have a patio. It also will have seating on the front porch that overlooks Route 43. It will be a fun place to go."

Updyke is also enthused because this year will be the 200th anniversary of the building. "It's a real exciting project," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. We've had great support from the community on this project."

ThornCreek Winery

Imagine yourself at ThornCreek Winery on a warm summer evening with a glass of wine in your hand. The outdoor area features tents, fireplaces, a water fountain, an herb garden and chairs spread out over eight areas on the winery's grounds.

"The outdoor garden spaces fit 200 people comfortably," said general manager David Walker, adding that the outdoor area opens in mid-April, and there is live music every Friday and Saturday night from 7 to 10 p.m.

ThornCreek Winery is also a venue for wedding rehearsal dinners and weddings, class reunions, Bar Mitzvahs, and corporate events.

"If people have a big wedding planned, they can rent the whole property," Walker said. "So sometimes, we're not open to the public. But smaller weddings, for example, can be held inside the wine cellar and we'd still be open for regular business."

Walker said the best way for guests to stay in contact with the winery is to check it out on the website, Facebook or by visiting from time to time.

ThornCreek at 155 Treat Road, which was Aurora Chamber of Commerce's business of the year in 2014, is owned by David Thorn.

Of course, ThornCreek makes and sells its own wine, too. The winery makes 11 "unique and distinctive" wines, Walker said.

"We have a tasting room where people can sample and buy the wines," he said.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC


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