CLEVELAND — Spend a little time at Home Bistro and you’ll soon feel, well, right at home. And that's exactly how husband and wife team Victor Morenz and Emily Gilbert want you to feel when you leave their charming Little Italy restaurant.
"Hospitality is the number one thing that we do," Victor explained. "The food should be good, but how we were treated I think is what makes the difference in an experience."
Both Morenz and Gilbert are Cleveland natives, but their culinary careers began in Chicago.
"Through [Victor's] culinary program, he met the first owner of Home Bistro," Emily recalled. "So it proceeded us...[and the owner] liked the way Victor cooked. It reminded of him his own cooking."
The duo worked their way up in the popular spot in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood - and by 2013, had the opportunity to buy out the previous owner.
But, Northeast Ohio was always calling. And so, in the spring of 2020, Home Bistro moved from Chi-town to The Land. Timing that ended up coinciding with the pandemic.
"I think if someone asked us if we would do it again, I mean, I'd probably say yes, but the past year has been really hard," Emily said. "And I think if I knew it was going to be that hard, I would have been like, I don't know."
But this team, no strangers to hard work, was prepared to see it through – with a little help from family and friends.
"Until a couple of weeks ago. I have not had a kitchen employee. It's been just me. So just me cooking, just me doing dishes," Victor said.
But as Emily explained, their network here at home has come through.
"Victor’s parents have been working at the restaurant every weekend since October. His sister, who lives in Toledo, comes to town every few weeks to help us. And we have a whole list of friends that we call in every now and then including this weekend [for The Feast of the Assumption]. So we're lucky that we have a large network of people that are here to support us."
They've found a supportive community in their Little Italy neighborhood as well.
"One of the reasons we were attracted to this neighborhood is because of that," Emily said. "It's a neighborhood where... our next door neighbor he's been open for like 40 years."
For Victor, the choice of location is personal.
"I grew up coming down here and going to Trattoria on the Hill, the old Roman gardens over there," he said. "That was a main draw to come to this neighborhood - because we want to build it to where we are that [longstanding] as well. I want to be a little old man cooking in the kitchen basically."
And in this kitchen, Victor has perfected what he describes as his “New American” fare. It’s not your traditional Little Italy menu, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find some Italian classics.
"I do a lot of specials. It's something that I've always, that I've always done anyway," he said. "Handmade pasta, I think, is one of the most beautiful things that you can do."
"Victor makes really good gnocchi, it's ricotta gnocchi," Emily added. "So we usually have that on the menu just as a nod to the neighborhood, but it's also something we always had on the menu in Chicago."
They also pride themselves on carrying on the local tradition of old-school hospitality.
"We'll treat you like family... and not in, not in an artificial way, in a real way," Victor explained. "It's never, it's good to see you. It's, good to see you again."
And despite the ongoing challenges facing the restaurant industry, This duo hopes to be welcoming guests “home," for a long time to come.
"We're really just dedicated to people coming here and having a good time and wanting to come back," Emily said.
"We also love it," Victor added. "You hear people say, labor of love, for us it really is."
*Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from a previous report.