Tommy Fello doesn’t just celebrate National Soyfoods Month in April. He lives it, all year long. The owner of the 125-seat Tommy’s Restaurant in the Coventry Road neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, OH, has been in business since 1972, and offers soyfoods on the menu seven days a week. It’s a broad menu, little unchanged from the restaurant’s early years, where meat items continue to coexist with vegan and vegetarian options.
Tommy Fello estimates, “About 75% of our sales are vegan or vegetarian items.” He explains that one goal of the restaurant is for people to come in as a family and have each person get something they want. “We fell into a niche where we could grow and prosper. We have our customers to thank for it.”
The types and amounts of soyfoods on the menu have evolved due to customer requests. “We’ve been serving soy since before healthy was cool. We offered earth-friendly products. And I was happy to introduce soy for that reason, and for health reasons. It was to cater to customers.”
Menu staples at Tommy’s include Middle Eastern and American classics, along with Asian-inspired items. Customers at this casual dining restaurant can choose from burgers; ten ham-and-cheese sandwich varieties; falafel; more than 20 salads; tofu and tempeh items; escarole, potato and spinach pies; meat pies; turkey and chicken; corned beef (5 sandwich varieties); specialties such as brown rice and vegetables with a side of tamari, and an extensive menu of breakfast menu. Some of the current menu items have great staying power. Spinach pies, falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, and toasted cheese sandwiches—11 of them—have been on the menu since the beginning. As Tommy became more aware of the need for protein in vegetarian diets, he worked with local suppliers of tofu and tempeh to develop additional menu items and recipes.
The Tofu Scramble, a breakfast dish, has been a Tommy’s menu staple since 1979. It’s a combination of tofu scrambled with broccoli, mushrooms and onions, served with fruit and a choice of toast. Tempeh also was added to the menu around 1979. Today, the Tofu & Tempeh section of Tommy’s menu offers specialties such as Taco Salad with TVP, and a Greek salad featuring tofu feta that is made in-house. Tommy’s Restaurant also makes its own tempeh burgers and salads. Tofu is served in many forms—fried, featured in salads and grilled items. Tempeh was first offered as Tempeh Chili—an adaptation of a recipe from Tommy Fello’s mother—substituting tempeh for meat.
Over the years, the restaurant has received awards from numerous local publications for its health conscious menu. “We offer many healthful items, and if customers are sent here by hospitals saying ‘Go here for a healthy meal,’ their families come with them, try something and like it enough to come back.” The restaurant is close to the campuses of two nearby hospitals, The Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals.
“We try to stay in touch with what our customers want, and cater to everybody. We have the same menu, with items named after the people who ate them first.” While old favorites remain on the menu, new items are always being added.
“We’re known for our milkshakes, and also offer Tofu Shakes,” Tommy says. Shortly after the restaurant opened, Rolling Stone magazine called the Tommy’s milkshakes, “The best milkshakes east of the Mississippi.” Today, customers can order a 20-ounce chocolate or vanilla Tofutti Milkshake.
Tommy Fello notes that the popularity of healthful menu options has been helped along by high-visibility people like Bill Clinton embracing veganism. Over the years, customers have asked for vegetarian or vegan variations of their favorite foods and many of the current menu items have come out of those requests.
Tempeh is the most popular soy product featured in Tommy’s menu items, with The Delaney—a Reuben sandwich variation named for Tommy’s daughter when she was born—being the most popular sandwich. It’s made with fried tempeh, sprouts, lettuce, tomato and pickles on a toasted whole wheat bun. “The movie star Alicia Silverstone ate that when she was in here,” he says. “She’s a strict vegan.”
While many celebrities have eaten at Tommy’s over the years—among them, Joanne Woodward, Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Carey—it’s the families who come in that seem most on Tommy Fello’s mind. “We to cater to families. They come in to try it, and it’s my job to see that they like it enough to come back.”
On its website, the Tommy’s philosophy is evident: “At Tommy’s we provide an extensive selection of menu items and daily specials to try to accommodate a variety of diets: Health conscious, philosophical, meat-eater, or a combination of all of them. We take great care in providing all our customers with safe, high-quality, nutritious food.”
About the Soyfoods Council: The Soyfoods Council is a non-profit organization, created and funded by Iowa soybean farmers, providing a complete resource to increase awareness of soyfoods, educate and inform media, healthcare professionals, consumers and the retail and foodservice market about the many benefits of soyfoods. Iowa is the country’s number one grower of soybeans and is the Soyfoods Capital of the world.
About the Role of Soyfoods in a Healthful Diet: Soyfoods have played an important role in Asian cuisines for centuries. In recent years they have become popular in Western countries because of their nutrition and health properties. Soyfoods are excellent sources of high-quality protein and provide a healthy mix of polyunsaturated fat. In addition, independent of their nutrient content, there is very intriguing evidence indicating soyfoods reduce risk of several chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer. All individuals are well advised to eat a couple of servings of soyfoods every day.