SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Picnic Hill Market Cafe’s grocery section features California wines, fresh cheeses, cans of seafood soup, creative mustard sauces, even small jars of valuable truffles. Everything you would need to put on a classy dinner party.
The new Shaker Heights market opens to the public today at 20621 Fairmount Blvd. Co-owners Shawn Brown and Michael Miller say they have been dreaming of owning their own store for years.
“We worked a lot and when we did cook, we would have people come to dinner parties,” Brown said. “We are somewhat ambitious cooks when we do cook, so we would always have these ingredients that we needed to find.”
Beyond the store’s stock of gourmet offerings, the cafe also serves up bites to eat on site or take away. Picnic Hill will also soon serve food and drinks at a full-service bar, set to open soon after the market’s grand opening event.
Every offering from Picnic Hill has been hand-picked by the co-owners, along with the help of other market and bodega owners that the two befriended over the years. Many of Picnic Hill’s goods reflect the lives of Brown and Miller, who have lived in many different cities.
“There are cocktails that are from different periods in our lives and they’re either things that we drank in that period, or they’re all named after cities or addresses that we had,” Brown said.
Even the name of the business — Picnic Hill — harks back to Miller’s childhood town in Kentucky.
In the past seven years, Brown and Miller have lived in Chicago, Oakland and Sacramento. They frequented local bodegas, especially Compton’s Market in Sacramento.
While they were in California, the two decided they wanted to open their own version of a specialty market, filled with gourmet food options. But they faced financial challenges. Brown, who had grown up in Cleveland Heights and had family in the area, was alerted that Northeast Ohio could be an opportunity for business.
“My aunt mentioned to us that we could probably afford it and that it sounded like it would work really well in Cleveland,” Brown said. “It was the perfect neighborhood, to come home and build this market and try to create the same sort of community feel that Compton’s had where it was.”
In November of 2018, Brown and Miller moved to Northeast Ohio and got to work renovating the space, which was formerly a yoga studio. They added unique seating areas with about half the space dedicated to a market.
Picnic Hill features some local selections, too, from Caruso’s Coffee at the cafe to frozen meals created by Chardon-based gluten-free company Minus G. Geneva producers supply maple syrup, bacon and charcuterie meats, and Mitchell’s chocolates can be spotted on the shelves.
Since settling into Fairmount Boulevard, the local community has taken notice.
“This is such a walkable neighborhood, so people are very familiar,” Miller said. “People started coming in and actually telling us how much they appreciated the work, that we’ve taken this vacant space and we’ve turned it into something that they feel fits the neighborhood and is bringing new life to the circle.”
In the future, Miller and Brown both hope to incorporate brunches, live music performances and community dinners into Picnic Hill’s offerings; they plan to announce events on the shop’s Facebook page.
You can find more information about Picnic Hill and its opening day at the market’s Facebook page.
For photos and videos on the extraordinary food and drinking scenes in Northeast Ohio, follow @DineDrinkCLE on Instagram.
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