Back in 2010, the executive director of Leadership Toledo began looking for methods to help fund the organization’s tuition-free program to inspire civic involvement and leadership skills in our region’s high school students. “We wanted a fund-raising concept that was part of the community … that brought the community together,” recalled longtime Sylvania resident David Schlaudecker (now living in Cincinnati).
The result was Restaurant Week Toledo, which was first rolled out the following year with 22 establishments. “We developed a concept that would excite and benefit local owners, so it was purposely scheduled to fall right after the busy New Year’s Eve/Valentine Day period, when things tend to slow down a bit for them,” Schlaudecker said. “Participants agreed to create a special menu that reflected the quality and style of their restaurant and donate three percent of the gross sales to support youth programs through Youth Leadership Toledo (YLT).”
Clearly, it’s working. This year Restaurant Week serves up its 13th year from February 27 through March 5 with more than 40 locally-owned dining locations of all kinds participating. Since an original goal was to bring the event to every part of the area, a diverse lineup of 13 locations is right here in the Sylvania area.
Restauranter Elias Hajjar’s three Poco Piatti locations (including Central at McCord) have been Restaurant Week regulars since the beginning. This year he’s switched up his approach a bit by offering four different items created by new chef Robert Campbell.
“Poco is pretty unique; it’s not a traditional ‘steak and potatoes’ place. So, an event like this gives people an excuse to try something new. Any opportunity we get to draw attention to how we do things makes sense. Plus, the week showcases one of the great things about our area, which is our restaurants,” he told me.
Uptown and more casual, the Inside the Five full-service brewpub, has been a breakout local hit since it opened in 2018—and a Restaurant Week participant since then, as well (along with its new Perrysburg location). Co-owner Katie Fields said that it’s typically a busy week with a lot of new customers trying them out. This year, they are offering a “customized menu” of their signature items.
Katie has an added reason to support the event. “My brother is a graduate of Leadership Toledo. I’m aware of the benefits that its programs provide to both the community and young leaders. It benefits a lot of people, so we want to continue that by supporting their efforts.”
Northview graduate Elizabeth Hildebrandt also credits Youth Leadership Toledo for her successful and meaningful path. After getting her degree in political science from the University of Toledo, she worked for Governor DeWine before moving to Seattle to join a start-up tech company. Now, however, she is helping develop a non-profit thrift shop which, she admits, is “quite a pivot.”
“YLT was definitely the most foundational experience I’ve ever had: learning that non-profit work can be an actual job. I didn’t know that helping people is something a person could do full-time. The program taught me practical things, of course: how to speak in front of a group, networking. But it also showed how to be genuinely involved with the community. It taught a service-first mindset,” she said.
Isaac Vens, a Southview sophomore, is learning these lessons right now as part of YLT’s current class. “The whole purpose is to build high school students into better leaders. I meet a variety of students from different schools that I would have not met otherwise. So, I’m exposed to other people and hear their takes on the world. It’s expanding my knowledge of how to be a better leader.”
Currently, Issac is volunteering on a project for the mental health organization NAMI, which raises awareness and helps individuals and families affected by mental health issues. “The experience is building life skills that (the participants) can take with them through college and their career; you are helping yourself for the future,” he stated.
In addition to the two establishments we talked to, Restaurant Week’s other Sylvania participants include Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Charlie’s Homemade Ice Cream and Burgers, Ciao!, Element 112, Mancy’s Ideal, Rosie’s Italian Grille, and Ventura’s. The event runs Feb. 27 through March 5. Check with each location to confirm hours.
So, make your plans now as you consider some final words from Anna Toney, current executive director of Leadership Toledo, “This is an incredible opportunity each year for community members to support local businesses who work so hard to make our area’s culinary scene vibrant and diverse. At the same time, they are supporting our organization’s work to inspire community leadership and develop leadership skills in our high school students, which is essential in today’s world.”