Filed Under Food

Gruber's Restauraunt

A Well-travelled Restaurant for the Well-heeled

Operated by brothers Maxwell and Roman Gruber from 1947 to 1961, Gruber’s Restaurant was one of the east side’s most popular dining establishments, as well as an ad-hoc social center for the affluent community of Shaker Heights. The pricey jacket-and-tie eatery encapsulated the conservatism and refinement of 1950s high society and was renowned as a gathering place for celebrities and Cleveland’s elite.

Yet Shaker Heights was hardly the restaurant’s first location. German immigrant Max Gruber Sr. (Maxwell and Roman’s father, 1878-1947) opened Gruber’s in 1907 at Columbus Rd. and Willey Ave. and moved shortly thereafter to West 25th St. and Clark Ave. In 1912 Gruber’s relocated again, this time to the Columbia Building at 102 Prospect Ave. The restaurant closed during Prohibition but reopened in 1932 in the Arcade. That stint lasted 15 years until Gruber’s final move: On April 14, 1947, Max, Jr., and Roman reopened on Van Aken (then Moreland) Blvd. in what would become the Van Aken Shopping Center in 1953.

Although Gruber’s had long been popular, it flourished in Shaker Heights. For 12 years, the brothers catered to what became known as the Jolly Set: a “cafe society” group of highbrows, sports figures and journalists committed to comradery, revelry and the periodic organization of philanthropic events. Gruber’s also was celebrated for culinary offerings ranging from sparkler-laden birthday cakes to frogs' legs, sauerkraut balls and meat served on flaming swords.

By the time the brothers' sold out to the Fred Harvey Company in 1961, the Gruber’s reservation list totaled some 25,000 names and the establishment was generating more than one million dollars annually. But following the sale the social hot-spot quickly declined in popularity and closed in 1964.

Images

Picture Perfect Rendering of Gruber's Restaurant from "The Poetry of Food Cookbook," ca. 1950s Creator: Worman Gutschmidt
Gruber's Entrance Gruber's Restaurant was initially opened by prominent lawyers Maxwell and Roman for their retired father, Maximilian Gruber. Maximilian had owned and operated a series of German restaurants of the same name in multiple downtown Cleveland locations, the last being in the Arcade. The restaurateur died within a week of the establishment's opening, and his sons took on the responsibilities of its operation. Source: Shaker Heights Public Library
Gruber's Interior Key to the success of Gruber's Restaurant was the brothers' efforts to provide patrons with high quality service and an elegant environment. Having consulted with the owners of the famous "21" restaurant in New York, Maxwell and Roman assembled an experienced staff from the Mounds Club - a glamorous night club and gambling den that had recently been shut down. Fresh cut flowers were arranged daily on each of the 200 tables, dress codes were enforced, interior decor was changed annually, and employees were paid high wages. An unsuccessful attempt was even made to discourage beer drinking, which was not associated with high society, by charging one dollar for a bottle (most entrees cost between $1.75 and $2.00). Source: Shaker Historical Society
Max and Roman Gruber The philosophy that guided the development of Maxwell and Roman Gruber's business was that every customer should be made to feel significant and valued. Each night, one of the brothers would greet patrons by name. Executives holding business meetings were often comped in order to help provide them an air of importance with their guests. The billing was based on trust. Credit cards and cash were discouraged. Instead, all bills were mailed to customers. At the time of the restaurant's sale, less than $20,000 remained in outstanding bills. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Hank Greenberg at Gruber's Gruber's Restaurant attracted a variety of local and national celebrities. Pictured above is Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Hank Greenberg in Gruber's kitchen. Greenberg was the first Jewish sports superstar, as well as a partial owner and general manager of the Cleveland Indians. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Gruber's Sauerkraut Balls The best-known menu item at Gruber's Restaurant was the sauerkraut balls. Such dishes earned the restaurant honors and citations from McCall's and Holiday magazine. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Bob Feller and Max Gruber Cleveland Indian pitcher Bob Feller was one of many distinguished regulars at Gruber's. Affectionately labeled by Cleveland Press columnist Winsor French as the "Jolly Set," the restaurant attracted a cross-section of Cleveland's high society and local celebrities. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Heart Fund Benefit Both Max and Roman Gruber were known for their work with charities related to heart and cancer research. Pictured above is a burlesque-themed Valentine's Day benefit held at Gruber's for the Cleveland Area Heart Society. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Salvador Dali at Gruber's Gruber's "Jolly Set" included philanthropist, industrialist, and art patron Leonard Hanna Jr. Hanna bequested over $33 million, as well as an art collection that contained multiple works from Salvador Dali, to the Cleveland Museum of Art at his death in 1957. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay at Gruber's Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay (left) regularly visited Gruber's when in Cleveland. Hargitay settled in Cleveland after fleeing Hungary during World War II, where he worked as a carpenter until becoming Mr. Universe in 1955. Famous starlet Jayne Mansfield was married to Hargitay from 1958 to 1963. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Sharp Menu Gruber’s Restaurant menu, early 1960s
Weren't Those the Days? Sauerkraut Balls ($.60), Filet Mignon ($6.75), Broiled Maine Lobster Tails ($4.25), Veal Scaloppini ($3.75).

Location

Metadata

Richard Raponi and Chris Roy, “Gruber's Restauraunt,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/411.