By Jamison Cocklin
Tim May grows long- winded when he talks about his plans to open a diner on Warren-Sharon Road, at the corner of a vast and mostly vacant lot where the Valley View Antique Mall and Expo Center once stood.
Dust from the parking lot seems to whip up easily. It’s carried across from the other side, where only a Giant Eagle stands, and collects near two vacant buildings that straddle an empty gravel plot where an outline traces the mall that once helped attract more customers.
If anything, May, 23, who graduated from Youngstown State University in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in marketing management, has his work cut out for him.
The 700-square-foot building that he plans to open in early 2013 got its start as a Perkins restaurant in the late ’70s.
After that, it was passed on from owner to owner, all of whom ran the restaurant with varying degrees of success.
But over the years, as Brookfield has changed, so too has the restaurant industry and what will be May’s seemingly endless competition, with an abundance of franchises and independent restaurants in nearby places such as Hubbard, Niles and across the state line in Pennsylvania.
For May, though, it’s a challenge he’s up for. There’s more to the story that has kept him and his business partner, Jason Rodriguez, working long hours renovating the building for the past two months straight.
“This was always in the cards — it’s always been a deeply rooted passion of mine, stemming from my mom, Deborah May,” he said. “She basically instilled in me that food isn’t just food. When you’re sitting down for a meal, there’s a lot of love involved: Conversation is a part of the meal; that’s where we got the concept for the name.”
Breaking Bread, as it will be called, became a reality about three years ago when May was a pre-med student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“I actually went to Case to be a doctor. I always had the mind for it — I loved it,” May said. “Biology, chemistry: It was my thing. The grades came natural, and I really felt I was born to be a doctor.
“But right after my mother’s death, I got a real bad taste in my mouth for hospitals and patients,” he added. “The next best thing was marketing. I’m a people person.”
By his junior year at YSU, May knew the food and beverage business was for him.
Now, he describes his decision to lease the property at 7317 Warren-Sharon Road as “100 percent inspired” by his mother, who died of a rare kidney disease. It will be, May said, “her legacy living.”
With the help of his father, also named Tim, who owns Mr. T’s Heart of Gold and Diamonds, a jewelry shop in Niles, and Rodriguez, who responded to an ad on Craigslist, May is bringing the retro diner into 2012.
When Breaking Bread opens, both May and Rodriguez estimate the total investment will stand at $50,000.
The focus will be on a quality dining experience for those in Brookfield and the surrounding area, serving “Americana, with some definite Italian staples,” as May explains it.
The two men are aiming to open in January. Most of the repairs on the building, still in good working order, were small, cleaning up after years in disrepair, painting walls to match this era and replacing light fixtures.
When asked if he was concerned about meeting the unprofitable fates of the owners who came before him, May was forthright.
“You can have great food and great service, but if you don’t have the manager to make sure the money is counted, things are clean and everyone is working to open the same exact way the next day — then you won’t be able to keep the doors open,” he said.
For now though, Rodriguez is helping to temper May’s candor.
He looks forward to “seeing the first customer walk through the door, because people are anxious for something new in Brookfield, and we can’t wait to give them that.”