Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tricky Tortoise Brewing Company out of its shell in Downtown Willoughby

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The newly opened Tricky Tortoise in Downtown Willoughby is putting its 20,000 square feet to good use as a preserved space to be celebrated by all ages. Built in 1897 as a one-time trolley car facility for the interurban railroad and vacant for three years after the Willoughby Brewing Company closed, it’s been carefully opened up to let natural light stream in.

Making great beers is its major intent, but its food and live entertainment keep families in mind starting at 7 p.m. on Friday evenings, with Saturday’s bands aimed at rockers who love to dance on its Brazilian rosewood floor.

A Brazilian rosewood dance floor beckons dancers when bands play on Friday and Saturday evenings. (Janet Podolak – For The News-Herald)

An arcade area for teens and others to play games is a step up from dining near a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that once was the trolley car entrance to the building.

The Tricky Tortoise is open at 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Retired U.S. Air Force officer Bobby Ehasz, co-owner with Steve Miller, has experienced several delays in opening the remodeled space, but the Tricky Tortoise is now doing business. Previously, the city of Willoughby had been helpful with special permission for a St. Patrick’s Day party and several “soft openings.”

The space includes a large dining area, two bars and tables inside and out. The restaurant boasts a pair of outdoor dining areas: one in front near the entrance with a large fireplace and an indoor-outdoor space enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass garage doors that open to let the outdoors in on nice days.

After creating a third bar in the main dining area to speed up customer orders, Ehasz discovered a separate liquor license would be needed because the one he holds allows for just two bars.

“We’re working on that now,” he said. “But things involving state licensing take time.”

To the same customer-service goal, hand-held point-of-sale devices allow servers to take tableside orders communicated to the kitchen in real-time and cash out diner checks when the meal is done.

The model train running on tracks near the high ceilings remains, as do many touches paying tribute to the red brick building’s past when trolleys connected Willoughby to Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula. His middle school-age son, Kale, spent months on a ladder sanding the tracks so the model train could be brought back into service. Another son, Blane, 17, recently graduated from Beachwood High School and is working at the Tricky Tortoise before beginning college classes this fall.

The red-brick Tricky Tortoise Brewing Company has opened in Downtown Willoughby in a 127-year-old building. (Janet Podolak - For The News-Herald)
The red-brick Tricky Tortoise Brewing Company has opened in Downtown Willoughby in a 127-year-old building.(Janet Podolak – For The News-Herald)

Ehasz served as the general contractor and did much hands-on labor in the transformation of the former Willoughby Brewing Company into the Tricky Tortoise. It was named after the tortoises the family has kept as pets.

He sings the praises of his staff, including Kitchen Manager Glenn Layton, with 30 years of restaurant experience, and Head Brewer Caleb Brown, who earned his chops at Platform/Anheuser-Busch and Thirsty Dog. He’s poised to add his unique twist to classic styles.

“Caleb is a genius at balancing flavors,” Ehasz said. “We now have four beers and will be adding a seasonal sangria to the mix for summer.”

Beers are low in alcohol, with an ABV — alcohol-by-volume percentage — around 5 percent, he said.
Although its beers are now only available at the Tricky Tortoise, it’s just debuted a 32-ounce crowler, aka can, for beer fans to take some home.

Cocktails handcrafted with local spirits also are available to expand on the brewing company’s dedication to a regional taste. They include the House Margarita, Rum Smash and Specialty Old Fashioned.

A model train brought back from the past follows tracks near the ceiling of the Tricky Tortoise. (Janet Podolak - For The News-Herald)
A model train brought back from the past follows tracks near the ceiling of the Tricky Tortoise. (Janet Podolak – For The News-Herald)

The menu includes foods that go well with beer, including shareables such as wings, nachos, sausage-stuffed peppers and the 16-inch Handmade Bavarian Pretzel. The restaurant’ BLT Burger ($15) is a popular sandwich choice, as are the Philly Cheesesteak ($17) and house-made Sausage Sandwich ($17). Diners can choose among a trio of traditional sides and three meal-sized salads. A quartet of pizzas, along with some traditional kids’ choices, round out the menu,

“I eat here pretty often,” diner Maria Palermo told Ehasz as he made his rounds to hear comments about the food. “ I think the burger is awesome.”

Tricky Tortoise Brewing Co.

Where: 4057 Erie St., Willoughby

Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closes at 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at midnight on Friday and Saturdays.

Info: or 440-306-8372.



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