A sit-still Skyward Grille

By

April 8, 2014

One of Columbus’ oldest food-cart businesses has a bricks-and-mortar home. Skyward Grille opened last Thursday at 2185 Riverside Dr. in Upper Arlington.

Skyward Grille’s mobile carts have been serving up gyros and sandwiches near Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College since 1987.

It was time to make the jump into a traditional restaurant space, said Jennifer Ratliff, who, along with her husband, Mike, has owned and operated the Skyward Grille food-cart business since 1996.

“We’ve wanted to go into bricks and mortar for at least 10 years, just to round out the business and not to have all our eggs in one basket,” she said.

No one could say they hadn’t already diversified. Skyward Grille serves lunch and dinner every day at mobile carts. It has a bustling special-events business via its catering division, and the company serves food through a partnership with Aramark.

“We go into the cafeterias they run and set up mini-restaurants, so we are occasionally in the cafeterias at Nationwide, Chase and Cardinal Health,” Mrs. Ratliff said.

At the new restaurant, the full mobile-cart menu is offered, along with 15 “favorites,” some of which are “sandwiches created by (cart) customers through the years,” she said.

Featured are potato chips that are made fresh in-house every morning and Sky fries, which are french fries topped with feta and house “sky” sauce, which is similar to Greek tzatziki sauce.

Skyward offers several treats from the Original Goodie Shop and has one dessert of its own on the menu: the Skyward Sweet Treat. The dish tops deep-fried cinnamon and sugar pita chips with ice cream, whipped cream and caramel, chocolate or raspberry sauce.

Mrs. Ratliff hopes to create a “street food” experience, albeit indoors.

“The grill cooks are face to face, interacting with customers,” she said. “It’s not the typical order-taker setup. You’re working directly with the cook.”

It took the Ratliffs several years to find just the right location to put down roots.

“We felt from the minute we walked into that building it was meant to be, and we had been looking for years,” Mrs. Ratliff said of the building at the corner of Riverside Drive and Trabue Road. “We have not looked back.”

The challenge was to find a place that could house a restaurant and also be home to their catering division and food carts.

The building occupies about 5,500 square feet. They divided it into a 2,000-square-foot warehouse to hold the carts, vans and the catering kitchen and devoted most of the rest of the space to the restaurant.

They plan to rent a 950-square-foot space to a complementary business, such as a coffee or yogurt shop.

“We were lucky to find a spot to support all of that,” Mrs. Ratliff said, especially one close to Ohio State University and Downtown.

The renovations were quite extensive, she said. “It was a very outdated warehouse-looking barn building — there is no other way to describe it. It had nothing updated or to code. It was a shell that was barely insulated.”

Now that the doors are open, the Ratliffs hope that the Skyward’s latest incarnation is as successful as its siblings.

“We’ve hired grill cooks with big personalities,” Mrs. Ratliff said. “Mike even said they can go ahead and flip their spatulas. We want it to be an experience, not some place you just go to grab lunch.”

According to the website, hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Off the menu

• Pizza Cucinova is opening its second Columbus location, at 1187 Olentangy River Rd., this week. To celebrate the occasion, the fast-casual chain is offering free pizza on Wednesday to customers who have “liked” the restaurant on Facebook. (Customers have to show their smartphones or a printout to prove it.) The offer is good only at the Olentangy location. Pizza Cucinova, a subsidiary of Sbarro, opened its first restaurant at 4044 Morse Crossing in Easton last year and is working on a third location in Cincinnati.

• Moe’s Original Bar B Que is now open at 128 E. Broadway in Granville.

• Figlio Pizza, 3712 Riverside Dr., is taking a bit of the bite out of tax day. On April 15, the restaurant will cover the sales tax on all its customers’ tabs. “We call it the Figlio stimulus package,” said owner Peter Danis.

• Bexley Pizza Plus took first place in the 2014 International Pizza Challenge Contest held recently in Las Vegas. Owner Brad Rocco won the “world champion” title with his Ultimate Pizza, which is a Margherita and spicy pepperoni pizza with fresh and flash-blanched mushrooms.

• A Mexican food pop-up restaurant will open on the back patio of the Front Street Bar and Grille at 460 S. Front St. Lola’s Backdoor Cantina will officially open on Cinco De Mayo (May 5), and remain open until Labor Day.

• Cameron Mitchell’s newest restaurant, Hudson 29, is now open at 1600 W. Lane Ave. in Upper Arlington.

Obit file

Ajisai Japanese Steakhouse, 3939 Ridge Mill Dr. in Hilliard, has closed.

Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at onrestaurants@ dispatch.com.