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Talking Downtown Business and The Value of Downtown Living With Resident and Advocate Joseph Frederickson
This episode of Then There’s Cleveland features special guest, Joseph Frederickson, Owner & Operator of Society Lounge & Sixth City Sailor's Club, and the External Director for the Downtown Cleveland Residents. Hosts Lauren and Michael ask our special guest about owning Downtown businesses and the value proposition of living Downtown from his perspective as an entrepreneur, resident, and advocate.
Lauren Niepokny: Welcome back to Downtown Cleveland's podcast, Then There's Cleveland, where we discuss Cleveland's successes, challenges, and future opportunities for growth. As Downtown Cleveland continues to navigate through the challenges presented by the pandemic, the small business community has proven its resilience. Supported by nearly 20,000 residents who appreciate Downtown's walkability and convenience now more than ever, Downtown's entrepreneurs have adapted to serve residents' needs in innovative ways. On this episode, we talked to Downtown Cleveland entrepreneur, resident and advocate, Joseph Frederickson, about his experience living and owning businesses in Downtown Cleveland during the pandemic, as well as the opportunities that lay ahead.
Joseph Frederickson: I do love the ability just to walk over to public square. Just in checking the mail, I'm already by three or four landmarks automatically, which is so cool to me.
Michael Deemer: Hi, I'm Michael Deemer, executive vice president for business development at Downtown Cleveland Alliance.
Lauren Niepokny: Hi, I'm Lauren Niepokny. I'm the marketing coordinator at Downtown Cleveland Alliance. And I work on projects like this.
Michael Deemer: We're joined today by a very special guest who is well-known to the Downtown Cleveland community, both the residential community and the business community. We're joined by Joseph Frederickson, who's been in the hospitality industry for over 18 years. He's currently the owner and operator of both Society Lounge in Downtown Cleveland, which opened in 2013, and the Sixth City Sailor's Club, say it six times fast, which opened last year. Welcome, Joseph.
Joseph Frederickson: Thank you. Thank you for having me and thank you for that wonderful welcome.
Michael Deemer: Well, before we talk about your businesses and your investments in Downtown Cleveland, you have such an interesting and varied background. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to make your home in Downtown Cleveland.
Joseph Frederickson: You're looking for the journey. Well, I was in college like most of us. I went to University of Cincinnati. I worked at a restaurant while I was in school. Towards the end, I started bartending and I enjoyed that. Just it's pretty much the things that I love about it now, I learned then, which is giving people things they love, food and alcohol, and entertaining them, making sure they're well-taken care of and putting my day-to-day problems aside, and for a short period of time, five to eight hours, depending on the shift, I get to focus on other people, which was really nice. So when I graduated, I graduated around 2010, 2011. I don't know if you remember what the market was like back then, but not the best time for someone with zero experience to find a job, especially in accounting.
Joseph Frederickson: I started following what I already loved, which was a lot of whiskey focus. I worked at a scotch bar down in Cincinnati called Nicholson's Tavern & Pub. So started doing some private whiskey parties with friends and developed a little of a reputation for knowing things about whiskey. And after that, got part of the opening team of one of Cincinnati's, I wouldn't say it's the first cocktail bar, but in the new era of first cocktail bars, I would say. That got the whole cocktail fire that time, which was probably the beginning, at least in this area, I would say, not maybe in the big cities, but the cocktail boom was beginning. So learning about cocktail theory and history and doing a lot of self-studying at that point was super important to me and I really dove deep into that.
Joseph Frederickson: And then I was looking to get back into accounting. I was actually about to interview for a nonprofit when the group from Society Lounge reached out and I came up here and saw East 4th Street and really thought... I took a few entrepreneurship classes when I was in the business school. I always knew the first cornerstone of entrepreneurship was see a need, fill a need. And at that time, East 4th Street had a lot of really great restaurants, but not that many great options for things that you would go to after you leave a nice restaurant. I could find a good need for what Society Lounge brought. And we opened that. We had a great team to begin with, great team throughout, but at the beginning, it was so fun assembling that team and putting it together. And we won some great awards, both for the space and the concepts and really proud of the work we did and been there for almost eight years now.
Joseph Frederickson: I like to think that I'm a business owner second and a resident first if you look at my hierarchy of the things that I put my time into because it's where my passion points are. When I create the list of things that I want to put my time into, getting involved with the neighborhood comes before paying back into my hospitality community. I like that I have a space that could be a home to people. I think that having that little neighborhood bar is important. And so many things I see Downtown are so focused on getting the event crowd, on getting big dollar spend. And when you live Downtown, it's not always feasible on just the Tuesday night when I want a burger and a beer. So I'm glad that I could put that into the Downtown as a permanent fixture.
Lauren Niepokny: You're a Downtown resident. And you are a Downtown business owner and you are also the executive director of the Downtown Cleveland Residents. How has your perspective as a resident impacted your position as an entrepreneur and a business owner?
Joseph Frederickson: Living Downtown, I've always been attracted to city centrals. I lived in Chicago for a little bit, Downtown when I was in Cincinnati, Downtown now. I think that the sense of community and just all the great features that a Downtown area has to offer is always really nice. And when I moved down to Cleveland from Gordon Square, for me, it was really important to not just be involved on a business side, but get to know my neighbors intimately, get to spend time with them and create that sense of community that I love. But more importantly, like I was able to, serve back into my community, get to know my neighbors and find out the things that we all find important and of value.
Joseph Frederickson: The fact that I opened Sixth City had a lot to do with the fact that I'm down here and I see what we need as Downtowners. And I hope that bar brings it. I hope that environment and then my philosophies on hospitality, my hope that we're able to bring that and give people a place where they can feel at home and feel appreciated and unwind a little bit, which is the most important part, I think of a third space as I call it.
Lauren Niepokny: Yeah, you really can't miss it. It's right on Euclid Avenue, right in 668 building. 668 Residences. So when you walk past it, you shouldn't walk past it. It's right there. It's in a great prime location.
Michael Deemer: Joseph, you've talked a little bit about Society Lounge and it being on East 4th Street and we've talked about Sixth City Sailor's Club being at the Residences at 68 Euclid and you living across the street in the Garfield building. What some of our listeners may not realize is that those three locations are all within probably less than a five minute walk of each other. I wonder if you could paint a little bit of a picture for us of how you view the neighborhood that you live and work in. I think from my perspective and Lauren's perspective, that part of Downtown Cleveland is really a microcosm of what we're trying to build across all of our Downtown. I'm curious about your description of the neighborhood and what has drawn you to live and work in that particular area.
Joseph Frederickson: Well, one thing that I notice from living in several Downtown areas is that the people that live Downtown usually have great amount of passion for their local area. I think that comes naturally and especially when you get in that echo chamber of DCR where people even have more pride, enough to get involved. I do love the ability just to walk over to public square. Just in checking the mail, I'm already by three or four landmarks automatically, which is so cool to me. Just talking to people in the elevator, talking to people as I go from one bar to the other, being able to wave and see the neighbors. And for a lot of people, this is just a place to come and play, who come from the suburbs, which by all means, I'm happy for that. There's more to give. We all want that.
Joseph Frederickson: And the landmarks and public square, all of that is great to be shared with the greater Cleveland area. But as far as living down here, it's just so nice to be able to go around and go to the local coffee shop and see a friend, to go across to just somewhere to grab lunch and be able to see everyone that you know cares about the neighborhood. I think that's very fulfilling.
Michael Deemer: You've talked a little bit about what led you to open Sixth City Sailor's Club and the need that you identified in Downtown for that type of neighborhood tavern, but you also made that decision to open in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when a lot of restaurants and bars were struggling. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what led you to make that decision to go ahead with opening Sixth City Sailor's Club at the time that you did.
Joseph Frederickson: For me, I don't know. I just love the thrill of projects to be honest. It wasn't really a question of the danger or I figured we would get all those things mitigated and we would get all the potential hazards taken care of in the semantics of getting through the contracts. For me, I just love the thrill of putting together teams and putting together projects and pouring passion into something. I think that a lot of my philosophies on non-toxic work atmospheres and in the restaurant industry, which it is a industry that has played with a lot of toxic mentality, both in the way people work, the way people treat each other, the way people look at substance abuse, trying to help alleviate that is something that's important to me.
Joseph Frederickson: So I want to always work towards building more projects and creating more teams and bringing more people under that envelope of we can do great things here, but also have work-life balance, also live in a way that we can get better. I always want to talk about ways to make people healthier. So I know that's a off-shoot of the thing, but mainly it was just the thrill of the project, having a lot of great people on our team, just within the restaurant and legal. We have some great people that help out with the real estate side, with the finances side, that just make sure that we're being smart when we do these contracts and sign these leases so that any risk, we can keep that to a minimum.
Michael Deemer: Joseph, speaking of making connections and community, you talked about how one of your goals with Sixth City Sailor Club was to fill a niche of Downtown's need for more neighborhood gathering places. So I'm curious about how your first summer and fall went and what reception you got from the residential community and what feedback you got.
Joseph Frederickson: Oh, well, summer was a whirlwind. From the point that we got keys and money in the register, I believe it was 47 days, which is unheard of as far as licensing and everything goes and the decorating that we did, and it just came through calmly working through the steps and breaking the forest down to the trees and working and then seeing it come together day-by-day, which it's always one thing I love when it comes to anything is try to do the impossible, but do it by the baby steps. But once we got going, I think the feedback was great. I haven't seen yet anyone leave there unhappy. Now obviously not everything's perfect. But once again, like training my people and behaving in a way where we treat people like people and no problem is not one that I won't empathetically try to solve for you.
Joseph Frederickson: I think that money is secondary to experience. If someone doesn't leave happy, then I will sacrifice a lot to make sure that they leave happy because it's more that they know that we are there to hopefully help them have a good time, leave happy. I don't think that people go out because they want food and alcohol. Everybody should be able to get food and alcohol relatively easily within their own home. I think that people go out because they want to unwind. They want to connect with somebody. I think that for me, when I go out, it's very therapeutic. I don't have to worry about the prep. I don't have to worry about the dishes. I can actually connect with somebody who's sitting across the table with me. And that's a philosophy that I teach to everyone that works for me.
Lauren Niepokny: You're obviously a very optimistic entrepreneur. What advice would you give other entrepreneurs that want to open up a business now or in the future?
Joseph Frederickson: If you want to open a business now, I would say just be smart as possible. Watch labor, labor is a tough one right now because I think everything fluctuates so much right now. I would say just pay attention to the details, but really more importantly, pay attention to your purpose. Why is it you want to open? Why is it you want to connect with people? And really focus on that.
Michael Deemer: I wonder if we could shift gears a little bit, and we've been talking a lot about your role as a business owner in Downtown Cleveland. We've talked a little bit about your role as a resident, but really like to talk a little bit more about that. You've chosen to make Downtown Cleveland your home as we've talked about. You're active with the Downtown Cleveland Residents. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about, from your perspective, what kind of neighborhood we're building in Downtown Cleveland. And you mentioned the niche that you sought to fill with Sixth City Sailor's Club. What other types of niches like that do you think we need to fill in Downtown Cleveland to build that neighborhood that we both want to have?
Joseph Frederickson: I know one that's big for me because I've seen it in other areas and I see it as a weakness here. Obviously I'm sure there's things happening behind the scenes that I'm not necessarily seeing on a day-to-day, but I do see a certain percentage of people that live Downtown, this is their middle ground. After college, before the family, they come Downtown, they have their fun, and then they move out to the burbs and try to get the family experience. I would like more family-oriented things. I think that the parks, they offer a great space. Beginning of COVID, we had some friends that did some safe, social distance kite-flying and that was great. More services that make it easier to have young children and make it easier to have a family. Not to compare us to Cincinnati, but like just down there, the parks and the swimming pools.
Joseph Frederickson: It's a little bit different because they have Over-The-Rhine just close to it. I think that as someone who's looking towards the future and thinking what I'm going to do once I have a family, that's one concern that I have and one I'd like to see tapped into a little bit more. I don't know how to make that economically feasible, whether that's something the city has to think a little bit more. I know DCA has had some ideas and been working on some things, but that's one niche that I think needs to be filled in my opinion.
Michael Deemer: I appreciate the emphasis on the need for family amenities and you're right. It's something that's I think a challenge for a lot of Downtowns, one that we've been thinking about and working on a lot here. We worked for a number of years on a Downtown playground, and finally got one opened just as the pandemic hit that will be there for children to play on once the pandemic is over. And we're excited about Canal Basin Park, which will be 25 acres of green space right on the Cuyahoga River. So, there's some things I think that are in the pipeline to be responsive, but you're right. That's something that Downtowns like ours need to focus on. We've done a great job, I think, of attracting young professionals, a great job of attracting empty-nesters. And we need to continue to make Downtown Cleveland a more friendly place to raise a family.
Joseph Frederickson: Yeah. And I see that too. I know that in conversations I've had with people from your side, these things are coming, which it just means we're all seeing the same thing and it's good to hear that we're all working towards it because last thing I want to see is all these great people who are involved in building that connection, that they just run off and lose that steam because I think it's so... The architecture, the restaurants, the culture, part of that are the people. We don't want to lose the people that build that culture just because they want to make a family. Hopefully they can make one here.
Lauren Niepokny: How does Downtown Cleveland Residents support the residents? And from your perspective, how are the residents feeling during this time?
Joseph Frederickson: I think everybody knows that it's a tough time. I think that when we have our little Zoom meetings, everybody's very happy to see each other. And the people that I see are generally in pretty good moods. I think the ones that probably aren't, aren't in those Zooms, so it might be once again, an echo chamber, but it's a tough time, I think, for everyone. But I think we're all in the same boat. I think that we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some of us have to get back into that workout that we did early on in this COVID thing. But I think that DCR, one thing that it does well, is it, and especially under Alan McConnell's vision and his hard work, it works well in doing things that help bring the Clevelanders a voice. Often the voice goes, just like you see in national politics, to those that have the big budgets and the big voices.
Joseph Frederickson: So being able to come together and have a voice, whether it's not always heard, but at least at the table, I think is important. I know that just concerned Downtowners. I know a couple of different crosswalks that weren't safe. I know we have one member who's very involved actually on one of my teams, helping out with the digital marketing. She is in a wheelchair. So having ramps in certain areas, especially when construction is happening, it's hard for them. It's not always the first thought is providing ramps for people and having someone that knows who to reach out to quickly in order to make sure that those things are provided. I think change is often slow. I think that it's not always something that can just... For it to be effective, it needs to be something that time and thought and people have to agree in and it has to be something done with the right amount of things to back it up to make sure that it's effective longterm.
Joseph Frederickson: And I believe that right now, where we are with DCR, we've got people who are involved, who are interested and in communication with the people from the various branches, both on the police force and city hall, that can make these things happen. I think that overall, a lot of these people that work in these public positions, they want to see things get better too. And more often than not, they're happy to hear from us as a community. I don't think we're ever trying to just raise hell to raise hell. We see too much of that. Usually it's just the voices of the people that actually care. And I think that's always a good thing.
Lauren Niepokny: Yeah. It's good to rock the boat a few times just to get people thinking, like you said. It needs feedback for it to change and the right amount of feedback, whether that be slow. It does change things.
Joseph Frederickson: One thing I've learned from being involved in leadership positions, not every leader is a psychic. They can't just make change to fit your wants without you bringing that forward to them. We try to do as much as we can. And if something's off our radar, we just might not think of it simply as that. So having an organization that allows the many that may not know a way to have their voice heard, a way for them to come together and speak up and mention little things like our garbage trucks coming too early and waking us up. We have people that call in about those things and then big things like people getting hurt because the crosswalk isn't well-lit or a stop sign isn't well-lit. Those things are important to the people that try to get by on the day-to-day.
Michael Deemer: Joseph, one of the things we're hoping to do with this podcast is reach folks who are far beyond the borders of Northeast Ohio and give them a picture of what Downtown Cleveland has to offer in terms of building a lifestyle, starting a business. And you're doing both. And I wonder what you would say to somebody who's listening, who may be in another state, maybe knows a little bit about Cleveland, maybe doesn't know anything at all about Cleveland, but is thinking about a place to really plant their flag and build a life and build a business. What would you say to them about Downtown Cleveland?
Joseph Frederickson: First things first, the cold isn't as bad as you think, but I think that any city, it's what you make of it. I think that people can live in New York and still find boredom. I think that really what matters is, are you planting your flag? Are you getting out there? Are you getting involved? I think that Cleveland has a lot of opportunity. I think especially now as spaces become more available, if you're looking to open a business, there's going to be a lot of people in the commercial real estate that are looking to work with people. I think that if you are someone who wants to open a business, that's fair. And if you're just someone that wants to be on the lifestyle side, I encourage you to come check us out. My morning jog, I get to take a break at the .6 mile mark and do a meditation round on the lake, which is basically an ocean, it just happens to be fresh water, right on the lakeside.
Joseph Frederickson: I think that people forget about that North coast, but it's right here. We're basically on the water. And then we have these amazing restaurants. We have a beautiful grocery store right Downtown. Everything that I need is right around me. And I know when you meet the right people and you jump in and get to know each other, there's some great friendships that will last a lifetime. And I think that's the most important thing. I think that the things we do and what we do for work is all sound surrounding the main thing, which is human connection. There's a lot of that to go around here. I think that Cleveland people are both incredibly kind, but also honest. So grab a jacket and come on down.
Lauren Niepokny: I was going to say move to Cleveland and then get involved. Right?
Joseph Frederickson: Yeah.
Lauren Niepokny: That's exactly what you're saying. And it does help making those friends. It's hard when you move somewhere new or you go somewhere new, it's hard. But I think that you being a great resource, a welcoming resource, and you're a very passionate Downtowner. We can't thank you enough for being here. So thanks for talking to us and giving us your advice and your expertise and your hopes for Downtown.
Joseph Frederickson: Thank you. I appreciate it. And anytime you need anything, [inaudible 00:22:38] reach out. I'm always here.
Michael Deemer: Thank you, Joseph. We really appreciate your advocacy for Downtown and your investments in Downtown Cleveland. Thanks for being a great ambassador.
Joseph Frederickson: Thank you, you guys, for all that you do.
Lauren Niepokny: The Downtown Cleveland Alliance is a nonprofit organization that has been serving Downtown Cleveland for the past 12 years, working to establish Downtown as the most dynamic place to live, work and play. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay current on what's happening Downtown. For information and how to start, work and grow in Downtown Cleveland, just visit Downtowncleveland.com. Then There's Cleveland is a production of Evergreen Podcast. Special thanks to producer Sarah Willgrube, audio engineer Eric Koltnow, and accounts manager Connor Standish.