Local Restaurants Offer A 'Taste Of Cleveland' Inside NFL Draft Experience

Ninja City Kitchen and Bar is one of the local food vendors for the NFL Draft this week. [Ninja City Kitchen and Bar]
Ninja City Kitchen and Bar is one of the local food vendors for the NFL Draft this week. [Ninja City Kitchen and Bar]
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The dining industry dealt with some tough times during the pandemic, but with the NFL Draft in town, some Northeast Ohio restaurants will get a boost as food vendors inside the three-day NFL Draft Experience.

Ninja City Kitchen and Bar owners Dylan Fallon and Bac Nguyen are looking forward to being one of the dozen or so local restaurants inside the draft event space and getting back to serving larger crowds after more than a year of strictly offering take-out orders or patio dining.

“It gives us a springboard back into some sense of normalcy,” Fallon said. “This doesn’t by any means make up for a really, really tough year, but it gives us a sense of hope that we’re getting back to it like we should be.”

There’s truth in Fallon’s “springboard” mentality: Ninja City plans to reopen its Gordon Square dining room just a few days after the draft.

Ninja City's NFL Draft Experience menu will inlcude handrolled egg rolls, steamed buns and fried rice. [Ninja City Ktichen and Bar]

About 50,000 fans are expected to pass through the draft campus, which is expected to be one of the most-attended events across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And they will all get a chance to get a “Taste of Cleveland” from vendors who applied to be a part of the festivities.

Anna Harouvis, whose Downtown Cleveland restaurant, Anna in the Raw, often only sees single digit customers these days, joked that she may be too out of practice to serve the large quantity of people expected this weekend.

While the draft will be a lift for her business, Harouvis noted the event will benefit the city as a whole.

“It’s nice just to see the city generate some funds,” Harouvis said. “We really need the industry back. It’s nice to see some life around.”

Anna in the Raw is partnering with the 27 Club – a downtown coffee shop owned by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who will be performing during the draft – a to serve a cold pressed coffee at the draft.

Two Ohio City restaurants, Sauce the City and Twisted Taino Frappe Bar & Grill, also created a partnership for the draft.

Before owner Jose Melendez opened Twisted Taino with limited capacity in August, he ran a catering company that ground almost completely to a halt in March 2020.

“It’s a great honor to actually do the NFL Draft for sure,” Melendez said.

Tickets are free, and still available, but must be reserved in advance using the NFL OnePass app. Everyone inside the Draft Experience must adhere to the NFL's COVID-19 safety "playbook" guidelines, including wearing face coverings and social distancing.

But even with precautions, serving thousands of people when the pandemic is not yet over still comes with a side order of trepidation, local restaurateurs said.

“We’re looking forward to when we can feel like things are truly back to normal, but this is a huge step,” said Ninja City’s Nguyen. “We’re going to have fun, let loose a little bit, but not completely.”

The NFL Draft and related events run from noon on Thursday through 7 p.m. Saturday, around First Energy Stadium and along North Coast Harbor.

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