Walking down Main Street, you can’t help but notice the brightly colored tables and chairs outside Chameleon Cafe. Although the name suggests otherwise, this cafe does anything but blend in with its surroundings.
Mike and Adria Buzek started their careers as restaurant owners in an unusual location: The basement of the Akron Federal Building. They started as a small cafe which grew into a catering business called The Culinary Chameleon. A few years ago they opened Chameleon Cafe in a more convenient street location at 23 South Main Street.
But why the chameleon? What about this critter inspired a restaurant name? Adria says it came to her when they were launching the catering company.
“I was trying to come up with something that was associated with change. I thought of a chameleon and how it adapts to its surroundings,” Adria says. “When we opened the second space, we still wanted to incorporate the chameleon just because that’s what people started calling [Mike] when he would make deliveries. They would say, ‘The chameleon’s here.’ They cut off all the other words and it was just the chameleon.”
Adria and Mike both worked in the food service industry for many years before venturing out on their own. They met working at Difeo’s Catering before going on to work together at Macaroni Grill. Mike worked at Macaroni Grill for 14 years before the cafe took form. Adria worked at several different restaurants during that time.
“At some point you just get tired of doing it for somebody else, and when you get the opportunity to do it for yourself — it’s the scariest thing ever to be an entrepreneur, to be a small business owner because you’re walking away from guaranteed hours, guaranteed paycheck, guaranteed benefits,” Adria says. “You’re going out on your own and hoping that it works. We’ve just been extremely blessed and fortunate that it took off..”
Adria looks at Mike: “Don’t get teary eyed!”
“When it started off, we were just twiddling our thumbs just doing a couple hundred dollars a day and thinking, ‘Did we make the right decision, did we make the right decision?’ We’ve not done any advertising at all, it’s all word of mouth,” she adds. “Just over the past 3 years it’s completely exceeded my expectations.”
Chameleon Cafe serves a wide range of sandwiches, paninis, and salads that change frequently. The menu is so widespread that the genre of food is difficult to pinpoint even for the owners, who call it “eclectic.”
Adria updates the menu each season, with a revolving door of delicious new dishes with fresh flavor profiles.
If there’s a common theme, it’s flavor. Lots of it.
“We go for tons of flavor in our sauces and our dressings. You know, we pickle things,” Adria says. “I try to find ways to make food taste amazing, but you don’t have to wait a long time to get it.”
If your not sure what to order, don’t worry. Everything’s good, especially with a special sauce.
“Anything with the ‘23’ sauce,” says Adria. “We call it a ginger cream sauce or a creamy Asian dressing. It’s a sauce that [Mike] and I came up with together.”
Although the menu and the decor are bold and unique, one of the most special parts of Chameleon Cafe is the people who work there.
The employees go beyond knowing you by name. They also know your wife’s name, your kid’s name, and the last time you visited the cafe. If you’re a creature of habit, then Heather, Priscilla, and Jamie start your regular order before you open your mouth to order it.
Whether it’s your first time in or your 50th, you feel like you’re one of the gang.
The Chameleon Cafe is located at 23 S. Main St. Their hours are Monday thru Friday 8 am-3 pm.
Due to sidewalk and street construction, the most convenient parking is located at the parking deck at the corner of Market Street and High Street.
Colleen Hanke is a Media Studies student at The University of Akron.