It may be all about the food when you're looking at the menu, but behind the scenes it's about hard work, real connections and local support.

Dozens of locally-owned restaurants have teamed up to be a part of Cleveland Independent Restaurant Week. It’s a moment for local eateries to step into the spotlight and impress new customers around the area with a menu highlighting its best dishes.

“Restaurant week is a cool way to play around with some things,” said Executive Chef Al Ives of Alley Cat Oyster Bar on the Flats East Bank in Cleveland.

The waterfront restaurant, featuring traditional seafood dishes along with a scenic view along the Cuyahoga River, looks forward to the moment the temperatures begin to warm up and the sun makes its way out.

“Anytime there’s a sign of sunshine, [customers] come out,” said Tommy Kneeland, general manager at Alley Cat Oyster Bar.

When you step into Cha Spirits and Pizza Kitchen, you can immediately find someone working beside a stone oven as they spread panko bread crumbs underneath their dough to offer a signature twist. For co-owner Susan Walters, it’s all about good food, a personal touch and a lot of hard work.

When you add a little help from restaurant week and begin to develop connections with other eateries in the area, forming a network of food destinations begins to resemble a community.

“I think it’s important to be part of that community of independent restaurants because we can feed of each other,” said Walters. “We support each other. We trade marketing ideas.”

Take for instance Toast in Gordon Square, just a half mile away from Cha.

“We don’t look at it as competitive, said Chef and general manager Joe Horvath. “We’re all doing something different.”

And Toast is the definition of doing something different to stand out from the rest. The restaurant has its own garden and chicken coup that provides new meaning to local and fresh. Horvath credits the diversity of restaurants in the area to helping others be successful as they develop fresh and creative ideas.

Cleveland Independents is a group of 80-plus locally owned and operated restaurants. This year’s event features restaurants from Avon Lake, Chagrin Falls, Hudson and Akron.

Visitors to participating restaurants can purchase a three-course meal for $33+ prix fixe (tax and gratuity not included).

The event is expected to last through March 16. More information can be found at