After growing up in Shaker Heights, chef Doug Katz knew he wanted to come back home following college and culinary school to bolster his community’s food offerings.
Now, with a number of restaurants, partnerships and a spice company under his belt, the Cleveland Heights resident is putting the finishing touches on his next endeavor, Zhug, a Mediterranean restaurant that uses zhug, a Yemeni hot sauce, as its focal point. The restaurant will be in the Cedar Fairmount business district at 12413 Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights.
Katz, who is a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, talked with the Cleveland Jewish News about his inspiration and plans for Zhug, which is slated to open mid-November.
CJN: Why did you decide to invest so much of your culinary ability into Cleveland?
KATZ: Growing up in Shaker Heights, I was always looking for ways to do something and be efficient with my time. And growing up in Shaker Heights, I felt like it was not one of those walking communities where you could walk down the street and get something easily. You had to get in a car and drive. So, I loved food but I felt like there was just a minimal amount of restaurants available to us. I just knew I wanted to come back to Cleveland after college and culinary school. Why not put it in my own community as opposed to opening somewhere else?
CJN: What made you want to do something different for each restaurant?
KATZ: Everything seems so different, but I think for me it was an evolution. I started out with fire food & drink at Shaker Square, which focuses on food from a tandoor oven, an Indian clay oven that promotes wood-fired cooking. From that, we used to just use it for American cooking, but I had a good friend from India who taught me how to use that oven, and toast and grind spices. So, that gave me the inspiration to create Fire Spice Company.
Then I went on to create chutney b., where we toast and grind those spices, and use them for curries.
And with Zhug, I think my interest in ethnic cooking has evolved just as much as our community has. As you see in the Shaker Square and University Circle areas, there is so much more diversity than there was 18 years ago. That makes me want to explore those flavors, diversity and stories. And there is also a market for these types of flavors too. I just personally love eating these foods and I want to bring that to the public.
CJN: What pulled you to Mediterranean cuisine?
KATZ: I've always loved food so I have fought a weight problem my entire life. But, I actually lost about 30 pounds in the last three years. And I think in that process, I began to eat in a healthier way focusing on the Mediterranean diet.
My interest in cooking this way comes from my trips to Israel and Morocco, and the start of my spice company.
CJN: What can diners expect from Zhug?
KATZ: I’m calling it ‘middle eastern mezze,’ as it allows you to share small plates that have many different flavors. It's also an opportunity to come to a place that doesn't take reservations with the highest quality product. Customers will be able to join us for a bar experience where we use fresh ingredients to make the drinks. We’ll also have a casual dining area, with a hip, sort of loud atmosphere. It’s meant to give people a neighborhood-type experience.
Following the opening of Zhug, Katz said he’s looking to see how his newest concepts grow and evolve.
“I couldn’t say I’m going to open 10 more restaurants," he said. "There is a lot on my plate. But, part of the opportunity here is that as I grow, I’m able to give people within my company that opportunity as well. I’m really driven to do that. I’ll be focusing more on fire, but these are fun things for me to be able to do with my team and give them opportunities to grow.”