Jonathon Sawyer, Foodie Entrepreneur, On Tattoos, Chickens And Rebuilding Cleveland’s Culinary Scene


Jonathon Sawyer seems like the kind of guy you want to be running your favorite restaurant. As the chef of Cleveland’s first green restaurant The Greenhouse Tavern, and recipient of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef award in 2010 (among many other awesome accolades), Jonathon is passionate about sustainable cuisine, his kids and Cleveland. He also just seems like a great dude. We caught up with the chef to get the dish on his latest entrepreneurial ventures.



How’d you come up with the name for your company?

My wife did. Because we are the only certified “green” restaurant in Ohio and grow food on our roof, she thought The Greenhouse Tavern would be the perfect name for our Flagship restaurant.


She also came up with the name for our restaurant group SeeSaw.


What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?

Pick out the VHS lineup for the day, makes an Intellegentsia coffee and then I read my culinary magazines and cookbooks.


How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?

30 when we started 100+ now

Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?

One of our main struggles was finding a manager who could handle a 300+ seat restaurant in a city that wasn’t then known for it’s food scene.



How do you handle frustration?

I ride my bike to and from work everyday and that helps alleviate lots of frustration. I also have a hot tub, 2 dogs, 6 chickens, and 2 kids. Whenever I am reaching a tipping point I hang out with them. They bring me calm.


What’s your office environment like?

We watch VHS movies throughout the day, have over 10,000 songs on iTunes, and there is an atmosphere of fun and family. My mom cooks family meal on Saturday for the staff of all the restaurants. We work hard, but we definitely still have fun!


How do you picture your company in 5 years?

Expansion in more sports stadiums (hopefully at Ohio State and Progressive Field), expansion of our Tavern Vinegar Company and a cookbook release.




Who or what inspires you?


I ride my bike at least 20 miles a day to clear my head as it’s my only alone time.

How did you fund this venture?

Self-funding and family investment and bank loan


Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?

Embrace risk. Make moves that take you out of your comfort zone.


Lead, don’t order.


What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend?

I would buy a house in Trento, Italy. Live there with my family, dogs, and chickens and make wine, vinegar, and food. I would travel Europe with my family and write a book about it.


Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now?



Website you couldn’t live without and why?— I like to know what’s going on in the nation’s culinary scene


Mobile App you’re in love with and why?

Instagram- it’s a quick and easy way to share what it’s like to be a chef running 4+ restaurants & food.


Ratio-Michael Ruhlman’s app is great in the kitchen.


Dogs or cats?

Dogs and chickens.


iOS or Android?



What’s the greatest thing about what you do?

I think we changed the culinary landscape in Cleveland, a city that is slowly rebuilding after the industry left. We went from a city of very few independent restaurants to a mecca of chefs, butchers, markets, vintners, brewers, and distillers.



We took a risk in opening a restaurant in Cleveland and I think that after our successes grew, others were encouraged to follow our lead.


What do you wish I had asked you?

Question: How many tattoos do you have?

Answer: A lot!


Thanks, Jonathon! If I’m ever in Cleveland I will make sure to stop by one of your restaurants. Cleveland rocks, after all.


The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.


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