Culture, Food + Drink, Reviews

Culinary Legacy: The Melendez Family’s Flavorful Impact on Cleveland

Introducing Michael Melendez, the Co-Owner of Campus Pollyeyes Express in Little Italy, Cleveland, a young entrepreneur who grew up in the vibrant food scene of the city.  Campus Pollyeyes recently opened its doors in the bustling neighborhood, attracting food enthusiasts from around the area. Michael’s journey in the food industry began at a young age, largely influenced by his father, Jim Melendez, a prominent figure in the Cleveland food scene.

Jim Melendez embarked on his culinary journey while studying Layout and Design in college. He took his first cook job at a steakhouse in Texas before returning to Cleveland, where he began working with Don Strang and his family at Don’s Lighthouse and RiverCity. During this time, Jim discovered his passion for cooking and eventually became the Executive Chef at Johnnys Downtown. Throughout his career, Jim worked alongside culinary icons such as Vid Lutz and mentored renowned restaurateurs, including Peter Taki. His talent allowed him to cook for celebrities like George Clooney and Natalie Cole, and even enjoy private meals and wine with the legendary Julia Child.

Michael’s introduction to the industry came when he was just 12 years old, working as a dishwasher alongside his father at Buca Di Beppo. Under Jim’s guidance, Michael developed a strong work ethic that later led him to confidently apply for a job at McDonald’s at the age of 14 ½. Growing up in a Mexican and Spanish household, Michael’s favorite dish to prepare and eat with his father is Migas. He fondly remembers learning tips from his father, such as using a raw potato to absorb excess salt in a dish. The father and son duo share a love for Cleveland’s best-kept culinary secret: Westside Market Meats and Fresh Produce, along with the famous Steve’s Gyros.

Jim has remained a guiding force in Michael’s life, teaching him and his business partner, Lucas, the importance of staying calm when dealing with challenges in the restaurant business. Through this guidance, Jim has become a true mentor to both Michael and Lucas.

Michael is grateful for being raised by such kind and hardworking parents, and he has seen firsthand how his father’s high ambition and unmatched work ethic have the power to brighten people’s day with a simple smile and genuine conversation.

Today, Jim runs the sauce distribution for Ohio City Pasta, supplying some of the finest restaurants in Cleveland with their pasta and sauces. Meanwhile, Michael is making his mark as the Co-Owner of Campus Pollyeyes Express in Little Italy.

The Melendez family firmly believes that Cleveland will soon be known as a true melting pot of food, thanks to its community spirit and support for one another. The city’s success in fostering a welcoming environment for all, evident in the thriving Ukrainian restaurants and flower shops, is something that both Michael and Jim are proud to contribute to, embodying the motto “Cleveland Against the World.”

The Melendez family extends their heartfelt thanks to Cleveland for its unwavering support and love, as they continue to enrich the city’s vibrant culinary landscape.

LegacyLittle ItalyOhio City PastaPollyeyes


Kyle is a content creator with a passion for exploring and telling stories. When he's not at his computer, you can find him in the city with his wife Kaitie, and/or his two kids. You'll enjoy reading about his experiences and insights if you're all about The Land, through, The Cleveland Tea Newsletter, and some of the posts on Cleve or Leave.

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