Two Geauga County businesses have shown how to be good neighbors.
When Great Lakes Cheese in Troy Township, a company that supplies about a quarter of the cheese eaten in America, needed to expand, it turned next door to Blazin’ Bills, a restaurant known for its award-winning ribs.
Joe Piteo, a partner in the business with Joyce Piteo, recalled the conversation. “I said, ‘You want to buy us out,’” Mr. Piteo said during his meeting with Russ Mullins, vice president with Great Lakes Cheese. Mr. Mullins, he said, put his head down and said, “Sort of.”
What the two worked out was a land swap that allowed Blazin’ Bills to continue its nearly 35-year tradition of fine dining in a new, larger facility at 17800 Great Lakes Parkway that was unveiled to the public last week in a grand opening.
In return, Great Lakes Cheese will build a new 300,000 square foot facility on the former grounds of Blazin’ Bills.
Mr. Piteo said the new restaurant will now seat 300 compared to the 200 seats in the old building just to the east. There is also a more organized kitchen, more room for employees to stretch out and a waiting area that accommodates 24 persons and has a television and a view into a water garden with waterfalls.
The water garden and waterfalls were provided by Mr. Piteo’s daughter, Connie Modrak, who operates Earth and WaterScapes Inc. in Auburn Township. It is just beside an outdoor patio, with a fire pit, that seats another 100 and allows customers to take in the fresh country air.
Mr. Piteo said one of the best things about the new location is the safety of his customers. The old location had driveway access onto Main Market Road (Route 422), one of the busiest stretches in Geauga County. Mr. Piteo said accidents were a regular occurrence.
The new restaurant is now off Great Lakes Parkway and allows customers to use a traffic light to access Route 422. “As hard as it was to do the move, the traffic was so bad on this road that it was well worth it,” Mr. Piteo said.
Attending the grand opening was Berkshire Superintendent John Stoddard, school treasurer Beth McCaffrey, Geauga County Commissioner James Dvorak, Geauga Growth Partnership President Tracy Jemison and Mike Butler, president of the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The restaurant has come a long way from its humble beginnings, Ms. Piteo said.
Thirty-some years ago, she said, a motorcycle ride into the country brought them to Pepoy’s Chick and Rib Crib, which was little more than a fruit stand that had an outdoor open pit for cooking spareribs.
She said there was no insulation in the building and a sliding door was the only way in.
When the Pepoys announced they were retiring, the Piteos saw their opportunity and bought the place.
They started the business in the converted fruit stand, keeping the outdoor grill and serving their dinners on paper plates.
As the business grew, so did their reputation for producing some of the tastiest baby back ribs as they took honors in state and national rib cook-offs.
They saw a setback in the plans on March 17, 2004 when the restaurant burned to the ground. But, they worked to bring it back by May 5, 2005 bigger and better than ever.
Ms. Piteo referred to the new restaurant as “Blazin’ Bills on steroids.”
Sarah Piteo thanked those who helped the restaurant make it to a grand opening, including Troy Township and the Troy Fire Department, Ronyak Paving, the Chagrin Valley Chamber, the “fabulous staff” and the “customers who supported us the last 30 years.”
Ms. Piteo said construction began last November and many of the people cited by Sarah supported the plans solely on verbal agreements.
Mr. Piteo noted that restaurants are among the most failing businesses in the world and Great Lakes Cheese showed confidence in their restaurant being a success story.
Commissioner Dvorak said the two businesses working together to benefit both “shows that Geauga County is moving in the right direction.” And, he said, the change in location has made the area safer for those who visit.
Mr. Jemison said, “It’s all about growth, growing our economy, and Blazin’ Bills is part of that.”
Mr Mullins said the land swap was a win for everyone. “We needed the expansion to continue to grow our business and serve our customers,” he said.
In addition to the ribs, the restaurant serves sandwiches, appetizers, salads and seafood. Catering is available and customers can purchase gift cards. The restaurant has also long been a supporter of American Cancer Society.
Blazin’ Bills is open 5-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The restaurant can be reached by calling 440-834-1111.