Ambrose and Eve closes its doors for good

Andy Downing
adowning@columbusalive.com
Catie Randazzo inside of Ambrose and Eve

On most days since Ambrose and Eve was closed by order of the tax commissioner on Nov. 13, according to a notice posted on the door of the Brewery District restaurant, chef and owner Catie Randazzo has returned to the space, logging long hours cleaning, organizing and plotting. 

Initially, Randazzo focused these thoughts on an eventual reopening, trying to get a handle on finances that had cratered since the pandemic hit in March. She launcheda crowdfunding campaign and looked at possible ways to restructure the restaurant’s debts in an attempt to make it through the winter and into a spring that at least offered the promise of a more widely adopted coronavirus vaccine. 

Gradually, though, as Randazzo met with financial advisers and attorneys, a reality set in that there was no realistic path forward for the restaurant, named for her grandparents andopened in November 2018. At that point, the marathon cleaning sessions started to take on a more therapeutic quality, allowing the owner to begin to say a prolonged goodbye to a concept that had consumed much of the last four years of her life.

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“I’m an optimist 90 percent of the time; that’s my super power. … And because of that, I really thought I could dig out of it. But the more I looked into it, the more the writing on the wall became clear,” said Randazzo, who started to come to terms with the decision in early December following a head-clearing trip to Washington D.C. “When I sat down with my accountant and my attorney, we looked at everything, and there was no way we were going to make it through. We didn’t have the funding.”

Randazzo said that some of the restaurant’s struggles preceded the pandemic “Restaurant margins are small, and a couple bad weeks can put you in a tight spot … and we were having bad weeks before COVID,” she said but that the arrival of the virus “completely changed the ballgame.” 

Ina March interview with Alive, Randazzo expressed cautious optimism amid the early days of the pandemic.“It’s been really overwhelming to see the amount of support we have from the community,” Randazzo said at the time. “They want us to succeed. They want us to be here when this is all over. Our whole concept is built around family, taking care of each other, warmth, home.”

But that concept proved difficult to adapt to coronavirus-driven realities, where communal tables and family-style dining have given way to isolated seating and curbside pickup. For a restaurant already struggling with revenues, capacities reduced by government order only further exacerbated the financial hardship. 

Early on in the pandemic, Randazzo reimagined the menu, focusing more heavily on takeout offerings rather than family-style shareables. But additional carry-out revenue couldn’t make up for the steep decline in dine-in business. In an attempt to fill the gap, Randazzo worked a part-time job catering at Dave Chappelle’s pop-up comedy series in nearby Yellow Springs throughout the summer, money she applied in part to help cover payroll for employees at Ambrose and Eve.

Other professional and personal developments added to these woes. In May, co-founderMatthew Heaggans left the business. Then, in November, a week after the city shuttered Ambrose and Eve, Randazzo’s father, Sam Randazzo, an investor in the restaurant, stepped down from his role as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio following an FBI search of his home. (Randazzo declined to discuss her father's situation on-record, but Sam Randazzo has not been charged and Gov. Mike DeWine said there is no indication the former chair was the target of any investigation.)

“It’s been rough, and I’m really glad I have a support system of people who care about me and are doing their best to help,” said Randazzo, who described the past month as “an incredibly dark time,” albeit one from which she is gradually beginning to recover. “I still feel like I let a lot of people down, and that’s the hardest thing for me. I feel like I let my staff down, like I let my parents down, like I let the city down. … But also now I can have a new beginning — a very, very high debt new beginning — and maybe start something that doesn’t take so much from me physically and emotionally.”

In the immediate future, Randazzo said all of the donations made to the November crowdfunding campaign would be returned, since the restaurant fell short of its goal and wouldn’t be reopening, in addition to focusing on the work still needed “to put Ambrose and Eve to bed for good.” 

Following that, Randazzo said she plans to take time away to recharge physically and emotionally, working on an in-progress cookbook for children while plotting a more low-key return, whether here in Columbus or elsewhere.

“The idea of having a life again sounds really nice, you know?” she said, and laughed. “It’s something I want to get back to, but in a different way. When I first started all of this restaurant nonsense, my end goal was to open a youth education center that had like a deli attached to it, so that kids could come in after school and get tutoring, or get a job and learn some life skills, or just have a safe place to go. So who knows? I’d like to get back in the kitchen, but I don’t want to own a restaurant again. I think I want to lean more toward using the skills I’ve learned to make a difference. And now I’m just trying to figure out what that could be.”