Login | July 21, 2018

Youngstown restaurants taut concept of local sourcing

Restauranteur Christian Rinehart at Mission Taco, with a Mission Taco. (Photo by Richard Weiner/Legal News)

Legal News Reporter

Published: August 3, 2017

For restaurateur Christian Rinehart, the right way to do business is all about family and local sourcing—whether that is food, people, or attitudes. Rinehart named one restaurant after his father, another after his mother and his restaurant group after his favorite comic book heroes.

The Justice League Restaurant Group (http://ceoods1.wixsite.com/mysite-1), of which Rinehart is founder and CEO, owns five restaurants in the Mahoning Valley area: Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts in downtown Youngstown and Boardman, O’Donold’s Irish Pub in downtown Youngstown and Austintown, and the new Mission Taco, which shares space with Suzie’s in Boardman but is a new food venture. Rinehart said that his company currently employs 168 people.

All this success started at home in Warren.

“Our parents both worked. I was the youngest (of three), and so I always had cooking duty. In the summers, we cooked hot dogs all the time, and so I started coming up with weird stuff to put on them—like Spaghetti-O’s.”

When it came time to open up Suzie’s downtown, named after his mother, dressing hot dogs became the restaurant’s theme, and perhaps its contribution to Youngstown culture.

Patrons of Suzie’s will recognize the six hot dog types and over 50 toppings: mustard and ketchup, whipped marshmallow, root beer BBQ, kimchee, blueberry mustard, mashed potatoes and gravy and, yes, Spaghetti-O’s.

And crickets. Deep fried crickets from Youngstown’s Big Cricket Farms, which Rinehart said are very popular (see the full menu at https://www.suziesdogsdrafts.com/menu).

Rinehart’s love of local talents also influenced Suzie’s live music offerings, which feature Valley bands who sometimes even record at the venue.

Rinehart, 42, began his restaurant career at the bottom, and bootstrapped his way up, he said. He got a job at the original Max and Erma’s during his freshman year at Ohio State and did well enough in management at that restaurant, becoming their corporate trainer at age 19, that he left college to pursue a career in food.

He left Max and Erma’s after five years, going into corporate training, running night clubs and becoming regional director for a club chain until, at age 26, he opened his first restaurant named O’Donold’s, after his father Donald.

“My father always wanted to own an Irish pub,” said Rinehart, whose father had died before Rinehart had a chance to open his pub.

Over the ensuing years, Rinehart went through the restaurant businesses’ typical ups and downs, he said, even leaving the business at one point. But he came back, achieved success, and started expanding. He opened his second O’Donold’s in 2010 and Suzie’s downtown in 2012.

At the same time, he was refining his ideas of what the food service industry should offer its customers. He is a great proponent of farm-to-table, local, natural, non-GMO, grass-fed foods and is a part of a Youngstown foodie group that engages their businesses in that way. Justice League employees also participate in community projects.

“I saw 10 years ago a movement toward personalization in the business—part of the ‘me’ generation,” Rinehart said.

He saw a way outside of the huge restaurant chains and greasy spoons that dominated the local food landscape.

“It was a choice to build our own concepts—that the personal take would be a winner. Our focus is primarily operating a successful and inspiring series of restaurants in which we can channel community growth and revitalization in the Mahoning Valley,” he said.

Rinehart’s latest venture is Mission Tacos, which serves tacos with toppings nearly as diverse as Suzie’s hot dog toppings, along with house-made margarita extracts like basil-blueberry and habanero along with local brewers.

“At Mission, we do food like the 1900s,” said Rinehart. “Everything is fresh-squeezed, everything is local.”

Rinehart has also been involved with “Burgers and Beards,” an annual festival.

The future seems limitless to Rinehart, who said that he has “so many concepts.”

The Justice League group is looking to expand both east (Pittsburgh) and west (Kent and beyond) and, he said, one day into franchising.

He said he would also like to own a farm to supply vegetables to his restaurants and maybe, animals. He also is working with Youngstown on a community garden.

The original Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts is located at 34 N. Phelps St. in Youngstown. The new Suzie’s/ Mission Taco location is at 1393 Boardman Ave., and the two O’Donold’s are at 122 W. Federal St. and 6000 Mahoning Ave. in Austintown.