It was a dramatic and tasty transformation.
In the space long occupied by a photo studio at the corner of Lee and Essex, a small ice cream shop with a cute name first opened for business. A year later, the store has become the snack spot for everyone from teens to families. On weekends, a long line stretching out the door fills the street corner, making the somewhat innocuous shop hard to miss. Offering ice cream ranging from simple vanilla bean to maple bacon and fries covered in anything from chicken to parmesan and truffle oil, it’s no wonder everyone is talking about Sweetie Fry.
The man behind it all is Keith Logan, a Cleveland Heights resident who, after working in corporate business development, which he described as “finding ways to grow for a big corporation and finding new markets and new products to help the company grow,” decided to give ice cream a try. “It was a difficult time, the last half of those 10 years,” he said. “I felt out of place and like I didn’t belong, whereas Sweetie Fry feels like something I was born to do.”
The shift from corporate business to ice cream seems strange, but necessity took over first. As Logan said, “I had to find a way to make a living after I was let go from my job.” The second push came slightly later. “At my church, I did a faith development program that lets you learn what your gifts are, and they told me my three main strengths were hospitality, craftsmanship and community. When my wife said, ‘What about ice cream on Lee Road,’ I thought, well it has all three of those involved, so I used my business development experience to chase that idea.”
Since then the business has steadily grown as the small shop’s reputation spreads through word of mouth, although the store’s main demographic still is the younger population. “When I was first thinking about the store and I asked anyone from my generation about it, they had 1,000 questions and they all started with ‘Wait,’ ” Logan said. “When I asked anyone of [teenagers’] generation they said, ‘When do you open?’ They just got the idea.”
This adolescent understanding clearly showed in Sweetie Fry’s first months. “When we first started, we connected with the college students at John Carroll and other colleges in the area and the young adults at Shaker and Cleveland Heights,” Logan said. He estimates that for the first six months no one over 30 visited the store. He explained that after this, the students started telling other people and bringing family members in, spurring an increase in the shop’s older demographic. Luckily, his hard work paid off, and Sweetie Fry is now a fixture in the community.
Though Sweetie Fry is successful so far, the limited diversity of menu items may present problems in the future if the novelty fades. Logan, however, has some plans to address this. He just added funnel birthday cakes to the menu, which feature ice cream on a funnel cake layer. This addition provides the opportunity for growth in events such as birthday parties. He has also recently included more meal-like items, such as the Thai pork peanut satay, which he said will be, “another entrée that will help position Sweetie Fry as a restaurant, not a snack shop.”
However, the most exciting addition to the restaurant is yet to come; homemade mini donuts are in Sweetie Fry’s future. Logan plans on selling a half dozen per order with different coatings including cinnamon, maple, glazed and white powder and hopes they will be done by Christmas.
Even with the promise of new and exciting food, Logan is still unsure of expanding throughout Ohio. “The only answer I know at this point is that I still have a lot of work to do here,” he said, “so not yet and maybe never.” He said this is not due to competition. “If we want to grow, it’s not that we have competition, it’s that we haven’t told enough people. It seems like everyone at Shaker knows about us, but we estimate that only 10-15 percent of the population in Shaker or Cleveland Heights actually knows about our business.” He asks people who enjoy the store to write positive reviews on Yelp, to bring their parents for dinner, to add ice cream to their holiday festivities and to request Sweetie Fry gift cards for the holidays.
Sweetie Fry remains a thriving, interesting and tasty restaurant. It is clear Logan’s success is due not only to his hard work, but also to his love for ice cream, which he thinks he will “still be learning about in 10 years.” He also credits his connection with the community and the individuals who helped him grow. “I want the Shaker students to know that I think Shaker has been a main reason for our success,” he said. “I want them to know how grateful we are for all their support. Sweetie Fry loves Shaker Heights!”
It’s pretty clear students love Sweetie Fry, too.
A version of this article appeared in print on 13 December 2012, on page 12 of The Shakerite.
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