Cleveland, Ohio has more than made a name for itself on the culinary scene as of late, thanks to the breadth and depth of its restaurant concepts (as a quick look at Melt Bar & Grilled, which now has a home at Cedar Point, more than attests to). And the city’s newest gastronomical addition is already starting to garner interest on the national stage: The Haunted House Restaurant is a loving homage to classic horror films, particularly the ones of the 1980s and ‘90s, while still attempting to curate a fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
By Marc N. Kleinhenz
During a recent visit on their sole day of the week off, it’s immediately clear how this is achieved — and also why they’ve received out-of-state guests literally every single evening since July 20, 2021, their grand opening day.
You first enter into a waiting room that has been (lightly) themed to the box office of a movie theater; a wall partitions off the dining space, decorated by a giant mural featuring a loving homage to Jason Voorhees, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, and others. The host — or “goodwill ambassador,” as he’s officially called — is seated behind a ticket-booth window nearby, flanked by movie posters of “Scary Movie” and “It,” of course. The smell of popcorn immediately greets you, and there are boxed candies for sale, just to seal the immersive deal.
Once inside the restaurant proper, you’ll immediately spot a few larger-than-life figurines in the corners, cobwebs entangling the bar, film-reel lighting fixtures, and even more movie posters. Owner Andre Scott told us they’re continuing to roll out the theming, which will eventually include another horror icon-infused mural on the back wall and table-specific paintings. The aesthetics are meant to be just enough to get you into the mood but not to intimidate or actually scare — remember that the whole family is meant to feel welcome. “We take it to a certain level, but not too crazy,” Scott said. “We want you to bring your kid, and your kid would be comfortable eating here. [But] I wouldn’t advise you to bring your kids if [they] don’t like scary movies.”
To further foster a fun atmosphere, there are a whole host of additional items that run throughout the week: on Tuesdays, a saxophonist walks around the venue, playing classic tunes, such as the “Ghostbusters” theme; on Wednesdays, it’s Cosplay Night, with The Haunted House actively encouraging you to come dressed up as your favorite character from any property. But the icing on the festive cake comes in the form of trivia, which runs every Wednesday through Saturday, from 4-10 pm — patrons can engage in a series of questions (such as, “What weapon did Jason perform his first kill with?”) or games (like “name that scary tune” or, even better, see who can sit on and be the first to pop a balloon-animal version of Pennywise the Dancing Clown). The rounds occur every 30-45 minutes, and the prizes include film posters, gift cards, or movie tickets.
If that last item makes it sound as if Scott and his business partners are in collaboration with Hollywood, that’s because they are. Since their opening a little over a month ago, the studios have reached out to The Haunted House Restaurant, looking to partner with them to help advertise to a ready-made fanbase — in addition to the trivia prizes, visitors can see the latest scary flicks being marketed in one form or another in the box office-esque waiting area (during our visit, we saw nods to “Candyman” and “The Night House”.
But the real star of the Haunted House Restaurant show, of course, is the food. Here again, we see the interplay between the light theming and the mainstream appeal; the menu, which consists of salads, burgers, pizza, and chicken, is your standard, for-the-whole-family affair (albeit one shepherded by Darnell “Superchef” Ferguson, an Ohio native who’s appeared on Bravo and The Food Network with the likes of Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri). However, while the items themselves are more-or-less routine, their names fit the spooky bill, with such entries as The Salad on Haunted Hill, Children of the Street Corn, Scooby Snacks, and Chucky Rolls, Southern soul rolls so named because “every time Chucky hits the ground, he rolls over somewhere,” as Scott explained to us. The horror overlay can also be memorably found in one particular dish: the Jaws seafood pizza, which is loaded with shrimp, salmon, and a lobster tail and which is presented to diners with the telltale music, sparklers, and a mini-American flag (and the “saxophone guy,” if he’s around that night).
We should also take a moment to note that Haunted House’s menu comes festooned with both vegan and gluten-free options, as well as a hearty spotlight on “brinner,” a combination of breakfast and dinner and a culinary sibling to brunch — something which Superchef Ferguson is well-known for. And there’s also the over-the-top Haunted Potion Bowls, which are a series of seven 51-ounce concoctions [either alcoholic or virgin] that include such dramatic touches as fog pouring over the side of their giant cups. Needless to say, it makes for quite the Instagram moment.
Such theatrical presentations carry over into our two favorite elements of the new restaurant. Costumed characters prowl the premises, stalking guests and posing for pictures with them in equal measure — even sometimes walking to the outside of the building and looking in at patrons through the windows as they eat. And then there’s the Purge birthday experience, which deploys roughly five mask-wearing employees to your table as the legendary sirens sound. But here, again, you can see the delicate balance between the thrilling and the familial: after about 30 seconds of the Purgers staring you down, they break out Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” and some more sparklers. “It kind of starts off weird and spooky, but then it goes to a happy moment,” Scott summed up.
Given all this, it’s no wonder that The Haunted House Restaurant’s popularity has been shooting through the roof since even before its July opening — visitors have come from as far as Utah to dine, and reservations have been booked up through Halloween (though Scott advises would-be patrons to call to see if there’s been any last-minute cancellations, and the bar is now first come, first serve). Turning the venue into a nationwide franchise is already being discussed, with the owners looking far afield to prevent over-saturation of any given market — the West Coast, Florida, and Nevada are on the dream list for possible locations (and let us just say that Haunted House would be a natural fit for Universal CityWalk Orlando, for sure). Bigger and better partnerships with the studios, local movie theaters, and, even, a hotel for all those out-of-towners are on the table, as well, along with other, yet-to-be-disclosed features for the Cleveland headquarters that will constitute “phase two” of the concept.
The Haunted House Restaurant is located at 13463 Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights, in a 5,000-square-foot space (the former home of a Melt Bar & Grilled, ironically). It has just started a partnership with Grubhub and other services for home deliveries, and you’re also able to place orders on the website for pick-up — which would allow you to get a quick taste of all the atmospherics for yourself.