Thursday, Aug 01, 2019

Turning Subs into Clubs

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Turning Subs into Clubs

University Circle welcomes Cosmic Dave's Rock Club to old Barking Spider Tavern spot.

Cosmic Dave’s Rock Club reminds Dave Lombardy of Uncle Charlie’s, a California hot spot where he used to play as lead singer of the 1970s rock band Foreplay. The club, which opened in April in the University Circle carriage house once occupied by the legendary Barking Spider Tavern, has the colorful decor, vintage rock posters and other memorabilia on the walls, along with the requisite stage and bar.

“Uncle Charlie’s was  a  great  rock ’n’ roll place,” he says. “One night we were playing with Huey [Lewis and the News], and Huey got signed [to a record deal]. The rest was history. The club became a million-dollar club. Everyone wanted to be there.”

There is, however, one big difference: Cosmic Dave’s Rock Club offers an extensive menu of submarine sandwiches. The club is the latest concept dreamed up by Lombardy, founder of the Original Dave’s Cosmic Subs. Like each of the 25 sub shops — a chain that includes locations in Columbus, Atlanta, Burlington, Vermont; Fort Myers, Florida; and Seal Beach, California, as well as Northeast Ohio — the club is a franchise. North Coast Cosmic Subs, which operates Dave’s Cosmic Subs in Berea, Cleveland Heights, Oberlin and Mentor, has signed a long-term lease on the Case Western Reserve University- owned building. The Chagrin Falls resident already has another investor eager to open another club.

“He wants to put one in Key West!” he says excitedly.

The inspiration for the sub shops came from the delicious late-night sandwiches Lombardy remembers building as a Beachwood High School student with his Seaway Foods co-founder father Chuck, in part for his need for a business project.

After 12 years in California pursuing acting and music careers, he returned to Northeast Ohio in the early 1980s and worked for his father in sales, then as an independent retailer of “jeans and stuff like that” in a little red house on River Street in Chagrin Falls. He and wife Maryann subsequently shuttered it to open a For Joseph clothing franchise around the corner on North Main Street — a venture that proved more trouble than it was worth after the couple successfully sued the company for opening another store in nearby Moreland Hills. One day in early 1997, Lombardy and his wife took a break from preparing to close the store. As he stood at the back door,  his gaze settled  on  the  little  red house he’d once leased.

Lombardy came up with the shop’s psychedelic rock ’n’ roll decor and began research and development for a menu that grew to 30-plus subs. He bought sandwiches at approximately 50 Cleveland-area shops and placed them side-by-side on his kitchen table and floor, then opened and examined them. 

“They were all, like, the same…the same bread, the same cheap meats,” says Lombardy, who credits his Italian heritage for introducing him to great breads and high-quality meats. “The sauce was no big deal.”

Lombardy became a stickler for quality. He and his wife concocted their own sauces, the recipes for which were trade- marked. (The Italian Cosmic Sauce is bottled and sold in the shops.) After trying sub rolls from two bakeries, he found a company that made a refrigerated, ready-to-bake one that consistently delivered the desired taste, exterior crustiness and interior softness — and bought a percentage of the business. In 2003, he sold his first franchise, a Fairmount Circle shop, to two men who came into the shop and expressed interest in opening a location.

“I started selling stores after that,” he says.

Lombardy sold the original Chagrin Falls shop in 2013. Although he takes great pride in the shops and the club, he has chosen to run his franchise company with his wife and their son, Brandon, to own and operate any one of them.

“I just hired a couple people to sell franchises around the country,” he reports.

Current projects include bottling blue cheese and horseradish sauces for sale and introducing a beer. There’s also talk of a music festival called DAVEFEST, a logical endeavor considering Lombardy’s desire to showcase  talent at the University Circle club. He admits that such an event is a massive undertaking.

“But it will happen if it’s the last thing I do because it will be fun,” he declares.

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