Imagine a restaurant thirty-eight stories high. A place for the most special of occasions. A place where handshakes sealed business deals over a whiskey sour, or even a place where you decided to book a table to propose.
That was Stouffer's Top of the Town restaurant. Sitting thirty-eight floors at the very top of the Erieview Tower, this restaurant was something incredibly special from the moment it came onto Cleveland’s scene in 1964, when everyone quickly realized this would never just be another restaurant, but a place where lasting memories were made.
Right up until it closed for good in 1995, those who made the trip always did so looking their absolute best. Men arrived in nothing less than a coat and tie, women in their best dress, or the one their husbands insisted they have for the occasion.
And yes, as with many of my posts, I of course have personal memories of the many trips made up the thirty-eight floors to deliver beer, always making time to take in the spectacular views all around the city and far beyond the Cleveland skyline. My favorite days were the ones that were windy because you always felt the slightest movement to the building at that height, which made things all the more exciting.
Despite all the invitations over the years to do so from the managers I dealt with, I myself never actually took in the ambiance of Top of the Town from the perspective of a guest. But I would never say I felt cheated because I am absolutely sure that over the course of the many years I spent working the downtown area for a beer distributor, I spent more than my fair share of time enjoying the one-of-a-kind Cleveland wonder.
But enough about me; let's take you back a bit to the Stouffer family’s beginnings in Cleveland, dating all the way back to 1898 with a piece of land downtown that was right next to what is now Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
James and Abraham Stouffer, father and son, were the first Stouffer family members to open a business in Cleveland. James’s wife Lena became involved when they acquired a sandwich shop on the lower level of the Cleveland Arcade. Then Abraham’s sons Vernon and Gordon became part of the management team as the family business grew to include restaurants not only in Cleveland, but Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and even New York.
Abraham passed away in 1936, the same year restaurants in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square and New York opened, but the family honored his legacy by staying busy and successful. So busy that the thing the Stouffer name is today most known for - frozen foods, which began in 1946 - became so successful all over the country that a special facility to manage production was built in 1953 on Woodland Avenue.
The Stouffer's brand grew to include hotels, and by 1990, the Stouffer name was attached to over ten hotels and resorts. The company has been sold twice and today is owned by the Nestle Corporation, which is based in Solon.
The Stouffer's restaurants were part of a truly glamorous time for Cleveland restaurants. Many other restaurants may have had more star power, but the Stouffer name was always synonymous with quality and style, characteristics hard to come by, let alone keep, in the restaurant business, then or now.