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Iconic Hungarian restaurant in Shaker Square struggles to stay afloat in time of COVID-19

The effort to save Balaton comes amid possible sale of Shaker Square.

CLEVELAND — Long before the Balaton Hungarian Restaurant took up a corner on Shaker Square in the 1990’s, it was already an institution.

It was a staple on Buckeye Road, on Cleveland’s east side, where it was first Theresa’s Kitchen.

“Theresa started it,” said George Ponti, manager. “But in ’64 it became Balaton Restaurant…and they took it from there.”

Ponti is part of the third generation to run the family business and the one to encounter, perhaps, its darkest days, due to COVID-19.

“When the future comes, we can’t pay both loans back, and our present expenses,” he said. “And personally, I was sticking my head in the sand for months and months and months and trying to figure out how to climb out of this.”

Two things helped.

First, his landlord was lenient on rent. Second, Ponti knew his customers, who helped put him on the country’s food map, would return.

This week, the restaurant set up a GoFundMe to help recover expenses lost. 

At the same time, the company that owns Shaker Square has been facing foreclosure after defaulting on a loan.

Peter Ruban is CEO of the Coral Company, which manages the Square, and says, Shaker Square is in the process of being sold soon.

Many details remain confidential.

“It’s just terrible unfortunate timing that it got caught in the maturity of an old loan that’s 5 years old in the midst of Covid-19,” Rubin said.

As for the potential new owners, Rubin confirmed this weekend that he is negotiating with a group of "community-minded public and private investors" and now "going back and forth" on a contract.

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Editor's Note: The below story aired on January 22, 2021

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