By NICK DUTRO
Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership
TIFFIN, OHIO – While having great restaurants is far from a new concept in Seneca County, finding high end dining with an urban flair is something that wasn’t available in downtown Tiffin for many years.
This year, one such restaurant, The Empire at 138 (www.empire138.com), was recognized for the third year as the best overall restaurant in Toledo/Northwest Ohio as rated by diners on OpenTable.com.
The Empire, 138 S. Washington St., opened in 2016. A massive, vintage oak bar anchors the dining space which features natural exposed brick, original hardwood floors, tin ceilings and soaring windows that open onto historic downtown Tiffin. Known for their steaks and seafood, the menu also features pastas, vegetarian items and house made desserts. Open for lunch and dinner, an elegant private dining room for special events also is available.
The Empire Block was built in the 1860s by Tiffin’s first millionaire, Rezin Shawhan. From the late 1800s until the mid 1920s, the name “Empire” was a downtown staple. In the local directories, the name switched between “Empire House” and “Empire Hotel,” located at 134-138 S. Washington St. and owned by Charles Geyer Jr. for most of its run, the hotel boasted 52 rooms, while the dining room had a capacity for 150.
Going off the momentum of The Empire, The Renaissance of Tiffin (tiffinrenaissance.com) opened in 2017. It invokes the feel of the Roarin’ 20s, with its copper bar tops, high-top tables, 1920s-style furniture, couches and Persian rugs. The theme is carried through to the staff members, who dress in period clothes and play 1920s jazz while patrons sip on bourbon, whisky, beer and wine.
While The Renaissance, 129 S. Washington St., does not feature a menu, patrons are encouraged to have food brought in and an agreement has been established for some of The Empire’s classic dishes to be delivered, as well as those from other local restaurants.
These businesses came to be through extensive renovation projects, which received support through incentive programs. The City of Tiffin’s Façade Enhancement, named the Best Public/Private Partnership in the state in 2018 by Heritage Ohio, provides 50 percent of the costs of a project related to the facade of a building within the Architectural Board of Review district, up to $10,000. Since 2014, 80 projects have been competed for an overall investment of more than $2.4 million.
The Empire, which is comprised of two buildings, 136 S. Washington St. and 138 S. Washington St., received a total of $20,000 for improvements including new windows, decorative trim, steel columns, aluminum window frames and doors.
For The Renaissance, the former DP’s bar was renovated to give the establishment its distinct look. In April 2019, the building was approved for a $10,000 grant to replace the rubber roof, add insulation and repair chimneys and exposed brick walls on the roof. In addition, the building owners have applied to abate a portion of the property taxes through the Downtown Community Reinvestment Area.
In 2018, two of The Empire’s owners, Andrew and Cindy Kalnow, were the recipients of the President’s Award by Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership for their many years of community service, contributing to economic, downtown and community development.
Two of the owners of the building that house The Renaissance, Suzie Reineke and Weston Reinbolt, were recognized with the 2018 Young Preservation Leaders award by Heritage Ohio. Reineke and Reinbolt have purchased and rehabilitated four historic buildings, which now house 12 lofts and six storefronts in downtown Tiffin. The Young Preservation Leader Award was created to recognize individuals under 40 that have shown outstanding leadership in revitalizing and preserving Ohio communities.
These businesses are just two examples of the resurgence in downtown Tiffin. In second half of 2018 and beginning of 2019, new businesses that have opened include the Laird Arcade Brewery, Reclaim It, The Chandelier Community Event Center, Airbrush Beauty, Overflow Ministries, Court Street Gallery, Higher Ground Counseling Center, PreGame Sports and Entertainment, the Tiffin Pedal Company, Divine Style Boutique and Simply Susan’s expanded its offering by opening Wax Lab. In addition, new businesses have opened in the Westgate area along Market Street, including KiKu Japanese Fusion and Magic Tunnel car wash, and soon Panda Express is to open a Tiffin location.
In 2018, Tiffin and Seneca County went through a rebranding effort that showcased the level of cooperation that has led to prosperity in the region. That Seneca County was in March ranked 14th nationally of out of 576 micropolitans in the United States by Site Selection magazine for large economic development projects and has placed in the top 100 in the country for the past seven years is not by accident, but is in large part because of the companies in Seneca County. When seeking examples of the county’s motto, “A Life Connected,” look no further than the partnerships of the businesses in Downtown Tiffin that work together daily to create great experiences for people who enter the community.
About the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership: Started in 1983 as the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. (SIEDC), the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership is a private, non-profit corporation dedicated to driving positive economic, downtown, and community development in Tiffin and Seneca County, Ohio, which consistently ranks among the top communities nationally for economic development. Learn more about the great things going on in Tiffin and Seneca County at www.tiffinseneca.com.