Crave owner Aaron Hervey doesn’t play when it comes to his food.
by Kurt Kleinham
Aaron Hervey didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef and restaurant owner. An Akron native growing up in Stow, he didn’t really have a specific direction even picked out when he graduated.
“I was the typical kid who didn’t know for sure what he wanted to do,” said Hervey. “I was working construction, but I was thinking, ‘I want to be an actor, a photographer.’ But I just didn’t know how to get started in that stuff.”
Then, in 1989, a friend called about a job working room service at the Sheraton Suite in Cuyahoga Falls, and Hervey jumped for the chance to work around hundreds of other employees and meet dozens of new people every day, almost like being in a movie. Working room service, he spent a lot of time interacting with the kitchen, and was immediately hooked by the skill and art that went into the food he was delivering.
“I just watched what they were doing, and I thought, ‘Man, that looks awesome,’” said Hervey. “It was a perfect mix of artistry.”
He put in to move to the kitchen, and started out prepping, working his way up through pantry, cold food, and then breakfast, lunch and dinner. He enjoyed working with food so much that he headed to Akron University for a degree in Culinary Arts, graduating in 1993. He knew he still had a lot to learn, so he began working at different kitchens throughout the Akron, Hudson and Cleveland area, taking in everything he could.
“You’re just sponging up everything you can learn. There’s a million sauces. There’s butchery, there’s pastries. There’s so many different things,” said Hervey. “You learn all you can from somebody, and when you feel like you’ve done that, you move on. You look for the next step and next place to work. It’s really just accruing work experience.”
At one point, he looked at hitting the road to learn even more, initially looking at Los Angeles or New York. Everyone he talked to just pointed him in one direction: New Orleans.
“I kept hearing, nowhere in America is there a passion for food like there is in New Orleans,” he said. “I was going to load my truck up and drive down there, and try to work for Emeril or something like that.”
But he then got engaged to his highschool sweetheart, and picking up and moving both of their lives was less of an option. He doesn’t regret the decision now, he said.
“I’ve spent my whole life in this area,” said Hervey. “I get to travel enough, and see other areas. But Northeast Ohio’s a good place to live, other than the weather. It’s home. I don’t ever look back on it now.”
In 2005, he started thinking about opening up his own restaurant. He had a concept in mind, and leased a spot in Akron’s Northside District for his new project, Crave.
“We learned really quickly at Northside that we were onto a good thing. You can come in and get a sandwich and an iced tea and get out for $9. But if you wanted to do three courses and a nice bottle of wine, we had people doing that too,” he said.
When he found Crave’s current location in downtown Akron, he saw even more diverse crowds coming in, and his menu developed to try to reach as many as he could, from office and construction workers to diners looking for a high-end experience. The drive of the New American menu was to put a refined spin on familiar foods, like the cheese and tomato soup, the cornflake chicken sandwich or the mac and cheese.
“We put a fine dining twist on a lot of comfort food,” he said. “New American is kind of vague, but in a good way. America is a melting pot, and our food is a melting pot. So we can go Asian a little bit. We can go southern. We’ve got Caribbean influence. That’s what makes it fun in our menu development.”
Even after 12 years, choosing a favorite dish from Crave’s menu is like picking a favorite child, he said. He’s not one to let his ego get ahead of the work: It’s a good chef’s job to cook good food, he said. But he’s always pleased to hear how the restaurant has developed into a fixture of the downtown scene.
“I’m not an ego guy,” he said. “But the longer you hear that, you get proud of it. You think, we’re right in downtown. Anyone who knows downtown knows Crave, and knows that on the way to a show or whatever, they can stop and have dinner. We’re proud to be part of the community.”
Kurt Kleinham is a freelance writer who is still thinking about the incredible burrito he had last night.
Photos by Svetla Morrison
Photos of Aaron Hervey at Crave Cantina in Cuyahoga Falls.