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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.

XOXO,

Liz Lessner

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23 thoughts on “Last Call for Mac & Cheese & Tang Martinis for awhile.

  1. I can only imagine. Bittersweet. But, I am sure your loyal patrons will follow you! Thanks for sharing your your humble beginnings in the resturaunt biz. Makes me more inspired by your success. Happy New Year, Liz!

  2. Liz, thanks for the great memories of the neighborhood and even more thanks for everything you and Betty’s have contributed to the Short North. We’ll miss having Betty’s conveniently across the street, and we look forward to your reopening at the new location. What a great site! Adjacent to Hills Market and Grass Skirt. More space. Parking. We are so fortunate for all the good things you do for our community. Thank you, and Happy New Year!

  3. Good luck in your new location. A great way to start a new year in 2014. New physical plant and new customers,with some new choices on the menu. New profits and hopefully a bright future for all connected to Betty’s

  4. I am heart broken… you have been my comfort food for the years since I found you. I will find you again and try to get there at least 2 times in January before you move on. I can’t get enough of your cajun crab pasta

  5. Talk about Mega Troubles Galore… Hearing this, I need a few right now! No, really, I love Betty’s and will follow her wherever the path may lead. Best of luck during the transition!!

  6. Muggings and rapes? Liz, I think your concept of time is a bit fuzzy. When you opened Betty’s the Short North was in great condition. I’m not saying there was no crime but as for your recollection, you’re off by about 15 years. The Short North you described existed, don’t get me wrong but the year was 1985 and you were 12. You’ve done a lot of good for Columbus and you’ve been a “pioneer” Liz but let’s keep the facts correct. The Short North had been gentrified years before you moved in. There were restaurants a generation before you that had to deal with the Short North that you speak of. Talk to Mike and Laurie from Day woods and Press Grill or Coney Island, or any of the others that made it through the late 80′s and 90′s. You’ve had it pretty good.

    • Hi Zip, Sadly, I witnessed a rape on High Street within a block of Betty’s one night in 2004. I called the cops and me and another staffer sat with the victim while we awaited police. This same year, one of our customers was mugged at gunpoint leaving Betty’s. BRAVO had a record number of assaults in the area during the early 2000s, it was a tough time though not as bad as it had been in the 1980s for sure. Short North has struggled since it was Flytown and has steadily improved since the reinvestment efforts of the 1980s. I spent a lot of hours addressing safety issues in our early days though maybe not the same intensity of years prior and by those before me. As you said, I have had it easy in lots of ways thanks to folks before me, thanks for pointing that out, they deserve a lot of credit too.

      • Didn’t want to come across too rough. You’ve done great things for Columbus and I wish Betty’s could open a second shop rather than relocate. Owners such as you are keeping good areas nice. Best wishes and good luck on your new endeavor.

      • Not too rough at all! My post was about my own personal experiences but I should have acknowledged how far the area had come by the time I got there thanks to a lot of good folks. I did spend way more time talking to Netcare and CPD than I ever dreamed I would but nothing compared to the likes of Eva and Melaine Mahaffey in the 1970s I’m sure!

  7. I think you’re weathering (ha ha – Snowpocalypse pun) all of this with your typical, fiery, smart, humorous grace, Liz. I fully intend to be there on closing day… and then again on opening day.

  8. My husband and I no longer live in Columbus, but spent several years in the short north, and Betty’s became our spot. So much so that in 2006, he proposed to me at Betty’s. When we’re back in town visiting, we try and make it down there, and will certainly check out the new location when it opens. Like many others, I’ll be sad to see the original spot gone. It will always hold a very special place in my heart!

  9. So sorry to hear you’re leaving the Short North, although you’ll do great in the new spot. Betty’s was the very first place I ever ate in Columbus, on my first visit to see Carl at his house. He had meatloaf, and I had a reuben. I had arrived on a late flight, and was hungry. Betty’s was crowded at that time on a weekend, so we ate at the bar. It wasn’t until a later visit that I tried that Tang Martini that I love so much! So many great memories! We have moved out of state, but will keep the new place in mind when we visit Ohio. Best wishes for continued success.

  10. Can’t wait to visit your new location. As much as I love the Short North, our downtown really needs to come alive. It has the potential to do so and having a place like Betty’s there gets us that much closer.

  11. grass skirt that’s closer to where i live and probably better parking I can’t wait! See you soon at the new Bettys

  12. Well, looks like Betty’s hasn’t closed at all. Just called the restaurant and they told me they will be closing in June. Great way to scare up business, though, hunh Liz?

    I hoped to find some clarity or a retraction on your blog as an update to the situation after talking to a sad friend who told me they had heard Betty’s had closed. Why not just leave an erroneous story left up here to add to the mystery? It’s just like the code yellow health code scare though, no publicity is bad publicity. Hopefully at the new location it will be easier to keep things up to code.

    • Hi Giovanni,
      Thanks so much for reading my blog! I am sure it took a while for you to get back here as this post is very old. There are plenty of posts since this one that update my blog readers on what’s happening at Betty’s, feel free to take a look. Further, our FB pages and stories/updates in Dispatch, Alive, Crave, Columbus Monthly, Business First, WOSU radio, WCBE radio, 610WTVN radio, Free Press, and ColumbusUnderground.com have all kept folks updated as well. I apologize for any confusion, I’m not sure what other media outlets I missed locally but I’m sure there are some, television and radio I guess.

      I wish it were as simple as publicity, and I wish it simply took publicity to keep a hardworking staff employed. I employ a staff of 30+, many of whom have been here since we opened 14 years ago, and any business decision made has mostly to do with our ability to sustain them through our transition to a new location. We did cut our menu and hours down dramatically and are very proud that a few folks could stay employed in the transition. I apologize this upsets you, we are actually really grateful we could keep everyone employed and insured through this very difficult time. Our customers are grateful and can still visit despite more limited hours and menu.

      Happy to discuss the health code with you anytime, not sure what you are referencing specifically and what it has to do with Betty’s decision to move locations?

      Thanks!

      Liz

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