I met with the Betty’s staff tonight to break bread (Adriatico’s Buckeye Pizza), drink some cocktails, and shed some tears.
After nearly 14 fabulous years, Betty’s is closing at the end of January. A number of factors led to my decision to close the very first CFL restaurant but I won’t get into that now.
Betty’s opened it’s doors in 2001, five days before 9/11. I was 27 then, I dreamt of doing nothing more than opening a neighborhood bar with good food that appealed to other young women like me.
I didn’t have money or a college degree, but I had endless elbow grease. My mother was good with power tools and had an eye for good junk. My brilliant friend Carmen Owens and I drank cocktails into the wee hours bouncing around ideas. Albert Clark, a dishwasher I knew from another life, was on my Special Problems Team. Chef Tonya Harris figured out how to squeeze pennies out of every leaf of lettuce to make rent each month. It was all I needed.
My annual salary for the first 3 years was $15,000, enough to pay my bills and nothing else. I ate/drank/lived Betty’s.
In those days, the Short North had no arches. The Short North cap wasn’t built yet. Yankee Trader was open and selling knick knacks for $1 or less. We had art galleries then, gobs of them. The legendary rock club Little Brothers was open then.
There was an awesome coffee shop called the Coffee Table on High x Buttles. Across from the Coffee Table was my favorite tchotchke store, Curio-A-Go-Go, which later became Studio 16 Art Gallery. Studio 16 was where the logos for Betty’s, Surly Girl, and Tip Top were designed under our friend and artist, Doug Fordyce.
There was a real deal pawn shop a half block away from Betty’s (today it’s a bank) and a liquor store directly next door to it. My favorite coffee shop/bar hybrid was across the street from Betty’s, it was called Basso Bean and I spent endless hours there. Next door to Basso Bean was a Waterbeds ‘n Stuff where our favorite dishwasher Albert would buy us all candy every day.
Chef Tonya, Albert, and I would regularly clean giant piles of litter, vomit, and trash on our street and sidewalks before opening in the morning. Homeless people slept under the staircase behind our restaurant, panhandlers were everywhere, and crime was high. I witnessed a rape on High Street and BRAVO was active in the area following a rash of hate crimes against Gay people. Servers leaving work were mugged, some carried guns in their purses. The doorways and alleys just off High Street were dangerous then and our cars were often broken into.
Tonya, Albert, and I devoted day and night to neighborhood revitalization efforts and combating blight. I remember all of us rescuing a neighborhood raccoon who had fallen into a grease barrel outside. It was hard work in those days, nothing was easy.
It was also the best time in my life. As a young woman, I was able to confront social and environmental problems and find ways to get involved as an engaged and empowered citizen in caring and stewarding our emerging neighborhood. We made a difference and I’m proud of that. Our motto has always been to leave our neighborhood better than we found it and I think we did that.
Some of our staff have been with us this whole time, others have moved to other CFL locations, some became managers and owners, and others have launched careers and families since those early days. Sadly, too, we’ve lost beloved co-workers and customers through the years too to suicides, cancer, drug overdoses, and heart disease.
The good news is, Betty’s ain’t dead yet. We’re moving our digs downtown to 340 E Gay. Last week I signed an LOI to relocate around the corner from Grass Skirt. Our staff has jobs at Dirty Frank’s West in the meantime and they’ll all work at the new Betty’s if they want. We’ll all be ok. Look for Betty’s Downtown details to emerge in the coming days.
For now, last call for Mac & Cheese, Meatloaf, and Tang Martinis for a while. If you see a Betty’s staffer, former staffer, or regular customer, be gentle, we’re nursing broken hearts.
Thanks for nearly 14 fabulous years in the Short North, Columbus. CFL started at 680 N High Street and was fueled by little more than lots of elbow grease and plenty of love. We still have lots of both, stay tuned.