Tommy's

Walk down Coventry in the mid-1970s and you’d probably see a large yellow sign—Tommy’s—on a wood-paneled storefront where Coventry Road intersects with Euclid Heights Boulevard. Inside this unique restaurant, all 27 seats would likely be filled. However, that would be a mere fraction of the myriad fans of Tommy Fello's milkshakes and Americanized Lebanese food. Three Coventry-area locations and forty years later, Tommy's has flourished. Its seats (now 125) are still filled and the same wonderful smells still waft out to greet passersby.

Tommy began working at his restaurant's predecessor: a drug store and soda fountain called The Fine Arts Confectionery (formerly Ace Drug and, before that, Merit Drug), located on the current site of the Inn on Coventry. As a soda jerk and stock boy, Tommy worked under three different owners. But it was the last, Fawze Saide, who inspired Tommy to become the owner of the most famous restaurant on Coventry. Tommy noticed that when Fawze brought his lunches to work, the customers who came to drink their milk shakes and eat their unappetizing heat-and-eat sandwiches at the drug store curiously sniffed the Lebanese owner's Middle Eastern cuisine. Tommy suggested they start selling the same food Fawze's wife brought him for lunch. The soon-to-be business owner took those pita bread sandwiches to sell during his short time at a computer school. After Fawze retired and moved back to Lebanon, Tommy purchased the facility. Part of the agreement was that Fawze would teach him how to make hummus, baba ghannouj and falafel. Nineteen-year-old Tommy was then in business, selling drug store merchandise, the same great milkshakes, and Lebanese sandwiches.

It wasn't until CoventrYard developer Lewis Zipkin pushed Tommy out of his store by threatening a 500 percent rent increase that Tommy fully realized the potential in the restaurant side of the business. "For me as a business move it was great because . . . it forced me to take a look at what I was doing . . . There wasn't a future in that drug store and that soda fountain; there was a future in the food part of it." He closed in March 1977 but reopened the next year in a new location where Mac's Backs-Books now is.

Tommy stayed for a decade until a fire that started in High Tide Rock Bottom's basement caused half the block, including Tommy's dining room, to go up in flames. He then moved to a third location—the former site of Coventry Café (a dingy “old man’s bar”)—combining the kitchen of his old store with a new dining room. Tommy's officially opened at its current location at 1824 Coventry Road in May 1993. He still makes milkshakes the same way he did when he was a soda jerk at The Fine Arts Confectionery. And most food offerings continue to be named after friends, longtime customers, and even celebrities who suggested the recipes.

Images

Audio

Rich History
Restaurant owner Tommy Fello talks about how people met their spouses at Tommy's.
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All Over the World
Restaurant owner Tommy Fello talks about from where the names on his menu came.
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Lebanese Food
Restaurant owner Tommy Fello talks about how the soda shop he worked for and took over started to sell Lebanese food.
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