The Aviator takes off with a refreshed design in the former space of the 100th Bomb Group (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – You will notice the first difference between the aviator and its former occupant, the 100th Bomb Group, before heading through the gates.

The planes left.

Mounted planes have stood outside the space adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for years. But new owners have arrived and revamped the location’s design, look and amenities. It has been revamped and converted into an events centre, pub and restaurant.

The Aviator, at 20920 Brookpark Road, serves as a one-stop-shop for weddings and other events. Photography, video, flowers, DJ, dinner, reception and drinks all under one roof. Brunch can also be included.

The Aviator, which opened April 6, is owned by Khadar Soussou; the Rababy family, which runs United Concessions Group at airports, including Cleveland Hopkins; and Tony Di Fiore. All have known each other for years.

“They spared no expense building this place,” Soussou said of former owners, California-based Specialty Restaurants Corp. “The bones were here. We just had to make it pretty again. …”

The aim, he said, was to give it “a modern twist, but keeping the bones of the place”.

This meant bringing in new furniture, applying fresh paint, and opening up the event space. And the outdoor spaces have taken on a new accent. The Aviator caters to weddings, corporate events, showers – all kinds of gatherings.

“We made it easy for the families,” Soussou said of the wedding logistics. “They are not professional planners.”

The theme, he added, is “imagination without barriers”.

“We will never, ever say no,” Soussou said.

A private salon leads to the spacious ballroom called Flight. Previously, it was divided into three rooms. It is now a large space that can accommodate up to 350 people. The first marriage took place on April 2.

A halo light with 450 Swarovski crystals hangs atop a sleek dance floor with the floor in view through the windows.

“If someone drops something on it, it’s okay,” Soussou said of the floor, which has a sheen with a slightly soft and comfortable sponge-like feel for those who do their power slide or their rides. chicken dances.

As Soussou strolled through the space recently, which was dotted with dozens of chairs and tables, he said 95% of event rental venues in Cleveland charge an average of about $7 per chair, he said. he declares.

The space embraces its patio: Each room opens onto the long brick-lined area. Curved brick fire pits are positioned along the patio wall.

Outdoor access was key, said Soussou, who said he was told it was the largest patio in Cleveland. (Otherwise it must be close, as it runs the length of the building, parallel to the track.)

A pergola also stands, with hanging Edison string lights to come. An exterior sign offers a clever theme: “Love is in the air”. And a rooftop bar is also in the works.

“The beauty of the rooftop is that it’s the after-party,” Soussou said.

In the main event space, a living faux wall provides a lively backdrop for selfies and photos, and can also accommodate corporate logos.

One of the first changes: the owners separated the connecting hallway between the public dining room and the private ballroom with a curtain wall. Previously, guests going to a private event had to walk through the dining room.

A casual pub offers 10-12 seats at the bar with tables to match. With a full view of the runway, the space includes fuselage artwork atop a fireplace and five televisions.

Small meeting rooms are offshoots within The Aviator. Maria’s Place is a smaller space for more comfortable showers and gatherings while Sophia’s Room takes on a more manly vibe.

“On the wedding day, we give this room to the guys. It gives you the cigar store vibe,” Soussou said. “This one, I kept it pretty original.” The space was the Churchill Room. Dark, wood-paneled walls give a masculine, clubby feel.

Ninety-five percent of the decor was items rented by families from previous owners. “It took months to track down the families,” said Soussou, who scoured Etsy and replaced many, but not all, pieces. He Who Stays in Sophia’s Room: A Portrait of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin in July 1945 from Potsdam.

Gabriella’s room is named after Soussou’s granddaughter and can accommodate 110-120 people for ceremonies and is also popular for corporate gatherings.

In total, if every space and seat were filled, The Aviator could accommodate 1,000 people.

“It was a huge undertaking,” Soussou said. “Not many people were looking to take on a (major) project during the pandemic.”

It seems to be paying off. Like planes descending and ascending the nearby runway, bookings took off – even while the remodeling was underway. Now the place hosts an average of three to five showers and a few weddings per weekend, as well as corporate events on weekdays.

Executive Chef Jon Standen’s estate includes an open kitchen in the restaurant, which seats 115 people. The menu focuses on “contemporary American pub” fare and features a burger smash that “took a month to perfect,” Soussou said. Brunch, a mainstay during the Bomb Group era, is also popular.

Standen is vegan but does not hesitate to concoct meat dishes. The smash burger means the meat is flattened, allowing for crispy edges and a juicy center. Truffle Parmesan Waffle Fries take on a light truffle twist. A 16-ounce bone-in rib eye is served with fry hash and topped with charred cilantro chimichurri.

The airman teamed up with Jack Frost Donuts for chicken and donuts – “a fun piece about chicken and waffles,” said Standen, who spent 10 years working with Michael Symon. Bourbon and homemade maple sauces are lightly drizzled over the sandwich, which surprisingly isn’t too sweet and offers an intriguing and flavorful contrast of hot sauce and donuts.

Speaking of donuts, The Aviator’s Giant Bloody Mary comes with one.

Speaking of sweets, desserts include cheesecake, cannoli, and “deconstructed creme brulee.”

Soussou et Cie have definitely left their mark on space. The original restaurant opened in 1983, but through the clouds of the coronavirus pandemic, a clear and renewed vision has been applied to the restaurant and event space.

“They write a check, show up and get their dream wedding,” Soussou said.

Related coverage

Aviator Event Center and Pub will open this year, offering one-stop wedding planning and services

New restaurant planned on site of former 100th Bomb Group

Bomb Group’s 100th restaurant up for auction

I am on cleveland.comfrom the Life and Culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I usually talk food and drink at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.

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Rozella J. Cook