When the Sylks launched their “home-style” soul food restaurant
in 2015 at 3761 Lee Road (near Scottsdale Boulevard), Sam took
charge of the chicken and seafood breading. Every other day would
find him in the kitchen mixing up his secret blend of spices and cornmeal –
white cornmeal for the perch and shrimp, and yellow cornmeal for the catfish
steaks and roughy. For chicken he uses a flour base.
Zenobia focused on the sides, such as string beans and collard greens
flavored with smoked turkey tails. She also contributed her 90-year-old
grandmother’s mac and cheese recipe. It features nine different cheeses
including – a slight departure from the family formula – smoked gouda. “With
the gouda, it really pops,” she says.
The popularity of those dishes, along with hard work, has spawned three
more restaurants – in South Euclid, Euclid, and Garfield Heights. Altogether,
Sam Sylk’s Chicken and Fish has 43 employees, including several family
members. Their daughter, Latifah, runs the Shaker store, and a cousin recently
came on board as district manager. Even their 10-year-old son, Jeremiah, will
pitch in on weekends when he doesn’t have baseball.
“I want to be known as someone who brought jobs to the community and
built a family legacy,” Sam says.
The Sylks know from experience that the restaurant business isn’t easy.
Before their move to Cleveland in 2013, they gambled on a seafood restaurant
in the tough Chicago market. It didn’t last two years. When the husbandand
wife team decided to take another shot, this time in Shaker Heights, the
naysayers initially wrote them off, pointing out that the location didn’t even
have its own parking.
“I can’t believe how fast it’s grown in five years,” Zenobia says. “Everyone
told us we wouldn’t last.”
Sam can still be found cooking fish on Lee Road, but he doesn’t mix spices
and cornmeal anymore. Sam goes to the kitchen and comes back with a hefty
25-pound bag of breading. With the addition of each new restaurant, the Sylks
realized they needed consistency across the chain. Now their original recipe is
mixed and packaged by a supplier in Cincinnati. Another lesson learned.
“It has to taste the same at every store,” Sam says. Now, plans are in the
works to sell five-pound versions of those same bags in local grocery stores.
Sensing another opportunity, Sam is following up his recent book
about relationships – entitled Is It Them Or Is It Me? – with a book about
entrepreneurship, based on his restaurant experiences. “It will include the
things I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made. I have a vision,” he says. “I just
want to see it come to life.”
Visit samsylkchickenandfish.com to see the full menu and follow on
Facebook and Instagram (@samsylkchickenandfish). SL
44 WINTER 2020 | WWW.SHAKER .LIFE