As many businesses struggled and folded under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic-related supply chain and staffing problems, Chase Sapphire launched an initiative earlier this year to help 20 restaurants across the country try and make it through industry hardships.
One of those 20 restaurants selected was Munch, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant at 28500 Miles Road in Solon, which received $50,000 at the end of October as part of the Sapphire Supports Restaurant Contest.
The contest, which was launched in July, encouraged people from across the country to share personal stories of their favorite local eateries and nominate them for a chance to win part of $1 million. Nearly 2,500 nominations were submitted, a Nov. 4 release from JPMorgan Chase said. Submissions were reviewed by a panel that considered a variety of factors, including the restaurant’s impact on its local community, innovation or creativity amid the pandemic, as well as the nominator’s passion for the restaurant.
The other 19 restaurants that received grants are in various U.S. locations, with many being in Illinois, New York, California, New Jersey and Texas. Munch was the only restaurant from Ohio to receive a grant.
Scott Hersch, who runs Munch with his wife, Jamie, told the Cleveland Jewish News Nov. 12 that hearing they’d been selected was “amazing.”
Munch was nominated by Orange residents Marc and Jill Braun, and their daughter Rachel. During the pandemic, the Brauns were also busy doing things to help benefit frontline workers, including Rachel selling $600 worth of bracelets to feed employees at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood, catered by Munch.
“I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that this would’ve happened to us,” said Hersch, who attends The Shul in Pepper Pike. “I would say throughout the pandemic, we were on our last dime every single week. We never paid ourselves for 18 months and just kept the business alive because it’s all we have. This is like a breather, some sense of relief through a very difficult and trying time. Motivation slips away because you’re working every day and not earning money. Before this, it was difficult to stay motivated.”
Along with the grant and the Brauns’ help in 2020, Munch had other local supporters who wanted to see it remain open. Medworks hired Munch to feed health care workers for five to six weeks. Then-Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Larry Nance Jr. included Munch in his campaign to benefit Northeast Ohio businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and wore its shirt before the Orlando Magic game on Jan. 6. Nance auctioned his jersey from that night for $734 and then matched the donation for a total of $1,400 to be donated to the Solon eatery.
“When you hear what these restaurants and the people behind them mean to their neighbors and customers, you realize they are more than small businesses – they are part of the heartbeat of the community,” Marleta Ross, general manager of Chase Sapphire, said in the release. “We are excited to help these restaurants on their journey to rebuilding and seeing their continued success.”
Hersch, who lives in Solon, said everyday customers also helped in big ways –
tipping $100 on orders or buying items and paying with big bills, only to tell them to keep the change.
“Those were the kinds of things we experienced during COVID-19,” he said. “Many, many people made a valiant effort to order from us regularly. It pulls at our heartstrings.”
With the money from the contest, Hersch said Munch plans to put it away to help get through the continued pandemic, as well as to create some wiggle room to step back and retool the business. That started with taking two days off recently to rework the menu and adjust prices to account for supply chain issues.
“In truth, still, we’re not profitable daily,” he said. “We are trying to reinvent ourselves and make Munch better, changing things to move forward positively. This has allowed us the freedom to start working again and the opportunity to do things we weren’t able to do because we were working every day.”
These changes also included repainting the restaurant, changing lighting, adding retail, eliminating dinner and adding breakfast, Hersch said.
“Right before the money got into our checking account, my wife and I didn’t have any money in our accounts,” he said. “Hopefully, along with the changes and renovations, this will get us through and we’ll be back on our own two feet again.”
Owning a restaurant, Hersch said he recognizes the fleeting nature of eating out. Someone goes out to eat, stays for a half-hour, goes home and quickly forgets about the general experience. So to have this recognition, he added, is everything to them.
“There are a million restaurants out there, so something like this touches you,” he said. “My wife and I put a lot of effort into our place. But, we never expected something like this. We don’t do it for recognition.”
Munch’s hours, menu and additional information is at its website, munchasimplekitchen.com. They accept online orders, catering and family style meals including entree, salad or soup and dessert for 6 for $60, according to their website.