by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, March 2016) After nearly 35 years, the two co-owners and operators of B & J Family Restaurant, Gus Smernos and Beverly Morris, have decided to pass their spatulas and aprons on to a new owner, Tony Farraj.
Beverly Morris said she and Gus Smernos were dating, back in 1981, when they bought the business. They each put $1,000 down. Beverly says she was working at St. Edward High School as a cook at the time and borrowed the $1,000 from her father. Gus says he needed a job. They went into business together and married later that year. The couple worked together to run the restaurant while raising two daughters.
Morris remembers bringing her daughters to the street fairs held on Lorain Avenue in the 1980s while she sold baklava to guests enjoying the festivities. Smernos recalled a number of local celebrities that have visited the restaurant over the years including Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland Stadium Drummer John Adams, Cleveland Browns’ Wide Receiver Reggie Langhorne, former Mayor Jane Campbell and now retired Cleveland City Councilman Jay Westbrook. Smernos says the restaurant opened the same year Westbrook started representing the area in Cleveland City Council.
Morris said, “The customers are our family.” She notes that they have seen three generations of families stay as customers. She recalls a grandmother bringing in her small grandchildren to the restaurant in the early 1980s. The grandchildren, now in their 30s are still customers, she said.
Beverly and Gus come to the restaurant each week to help with the transition. She says they offer advice on filling out necessary forms and paying fees such as for a Food Operator’s license with the city of Cleveland. Morris says Farraj has hired their old bookkeeper and their restaurant staff.
Tony Farraj says, “It is an honor to keep the name and the tradition.” Farraj, who managed Rubin’s Restaurant at W. 146th and Lorain Avenue for 15 years, says the business has passed from “a good operator to another good operator.” He said he wanted to have a place of his own. He said he came in as a customer, and Gus liked me. “Gus wouldn’t give the restaurant to just anyone. He met a young man he liked,” said Farraj.
The original owner of the restaurant, who sold the business to Gus and Beverly, is still a customer of B & J’s. Attorney Bob Tiger Tuma says he worked in the law office of Tuma, Kurtz, Grant and Modica in the upstairs of the building beginning in the mid 1960s.
Tuma says his uncle owned the building at 9717 to 9719 Lorain Avenue. He purchased the building from his uncle and in the mid 1970s was faced with the loss of the two downstairs tenants when Faflik Shoe Store and the Ohio State Liquor Store both closed their doors. Bob Tiger Tuma then decided to build a restaurant and corned beef shop to accommodate the neighborhood. He equipped the former Faflik Shoe Store space with restaurant equipment, tables and chairs from a restaurant in Parma that was being refurbished at the time. Tuma and opened it as B & J’s Corned Beef Shoppe and Delicatessen. The name, B & J’s, comes from Bob Tiger Tuma and his wife Joan Tuma’s initials of their first names, said Tuma.
In mid February, the three generations of owners of B&Js (Bob Tiger Tuma, Gus Smernos & Beverly Morris, and Tony Farraj) met at the restaurant to share stories about the restaurant, their customers and the neighborhood as Beverly and Gus head into their retirement.
Beverly Morris says she has “an empty nest feeling” since retiring on January 1st of this year. She says that she and her husband Gus come to the restaurant weekly to “help make our customers their customers.” Beverly, Gus and Bob Tiger Tuma recalled many of the business operators that have come and gone over the years on Lorain Avenue. Gus said at their retirement the only business operators on that section of Lorain Avenue (W. 90th to W. 101st) longer than he and Beverly are the owners of Schindler’s Upholstery and Fabrics Shop.
In their retirement, Gus and Beverly say they plan a trip to Greece to visit Gus’ family.