Today’s blog post is the first in a series that will feature local businesses. This month we are lucky to have a guest blogger Caroline McDermott. She is a long time friend and among her numerous titles is the Director of Piranha Aquatics, a fantastic swim program. Thank you very much Caroline for lending us your time and talents for this Small Town Spotlight. Make sure to check back often for more articles featuring local businesses.-Joe
LiB’s Market expands growing clientele base with addition of new head chef
When Ben and Lindsay Ratner purchased Friends Roastery in Salem, Ohio they had no idea where it would take them. They knew they loved the charming atmosphere of the space and had a passion for artisanally produced goods.
LiBs, which is housed in the historical Thomas-Griener Bank (built in 1858), already had a small kitchen that was being utilized for baked goods. When the Ratner family purchased the bank-turned news agency-turned coffee shop, they continued the tradition of offering pastries made from scratch, as well as offering locally roasted specialty coffee and loose-leaf teas. Over the past 2 years, they have worked to transform the space into much more than a coffee shop.
Ben developed his passion for the food industry throughout his young-adult life. “When I started taking classes at Kent State in the wine program, rather than psychology, my interests in the culinary arts was vastly elevated.” Ratner has been a manager of a winery and worked in casual American-style restaurants throughout his time in college. His work at 1810 Tavern in Bridgewater, PA worked to further those interests.
After a few vineyard and winery internships as part of the enology program at Kent State, he moved to Kansas in the summer of 2013 to pursue a cellar master position at a winery. The move and situation in Kansas didn’t work out to be the opportunity he hoped, so he returned to the area, slightly defeated, to regroup.
Because of their past experience in the food and wine fields, Ben felt it might be the right time to set out to create a business he and Lindsay could call their own while carving out a living together. Lindsay also had worked in the casual dining industry for over a decade, as well as obtained experience and culinary certification from a program in PA in 2012.
The couple put together their own LLC in the summer of 2014 and began organizing in-home dinner parties, corporate catering jobs, and custom pastry orders. After learning of the opportunity that presented itself in Salem in the spring of 2015, the couple decided to take the leap and closed on the purchase of the shop in late July 2015. They opened in August and in just a short time, they have grown LiB’s into a place beloved by many in the Salem community and beyond. The name LiB’s is derived from an arrangement of their kid’s and their own initials.
“Pastries, tea & coffee are great, but we have to pay attention to the needs of the area. We saw the opportunity to step in and meet a need for Salem: quick, healthy food options”
In October of 2015, they first started experimenting with more options on the menu of the cafè. They installed a “grab and go” cooler where customers can grab healthy salads, wraps, in-house brewed iced tea and local sodas when on the go or working downtown.
Then they added Sunday Brunch after a patron of a music and poetry night suggested trying brunch for Valentine’s Day. It turns out she had the culinary chops to step into a creative and service roll at LiB’s. The patron was Sara Baer. Sara lives locally and is involved with several aspects of community development, and she saw her culinary training as an asset to the shop. Ben agreed, and it was her push for brunch and later for tacos, that really got the ball rolling for food service early on. It was so successful that over a year later, LiB’s has continued it’s brunch tradition every Sunday (besides some holidays) to capacity crowds for over a year.
In the spring of 2016, LiB’s started testing out the concept of pop-up food events.
“We have held four pop-ups here at LiB’s in the past year,” Ratner said. Members of the community pre-register for these popular events and in exchange receive an exclusive dining experience with a specifically themed dinner.
Not only did the business continue to grow, but the family did as well. In the summer of 2016, the Ratner family added their son Simon to the LiB’s family. This slowed some of the plans for growth for a short time, but the new addition worked to showcase the community environment in the shop. With regulars stepping in as helping hands, his kid’s growing interaction with customers and day to day activities, it’s easy to see why people that frequent LiB’s feel like extended family.
Chef Don Ritenour
“I came into LiB’s with my girlfriend for brunch one-day last fall and I could just tell something special was going on,” said Ritenour. “She introduced me to Ben and Lindsay and then the next thing I know, I’m making tacos every Tuesday.”
Since beginning to do Taco Tuesday in January 2017, Ben and Don have grown into an in-synch duo. Early on in that time, they had been discussing bringing Chef Don on for more than just tacos, but both felt it best to wait until the time was right. During their time working together and through the growth of Taco Tuesday, Chef Don started helping out with private events hosted at LiB’s after-hours. It was becoming clear that there were lots of opportunities on the way should Chef Don come on board in a larger capacity.
“A few weeks ago I messaged Ben about my taco plan for the week, and it turned out he already had a menu in mind and had already gone shopping for the food,” said Ritenour. Ratner added,”The weirdest thing was I had already purchased the exact same ingredients he was thinking.” Chef Don decided this was a sign the time was right and took the leap.
Chef Don Ritenour, formerly of the Lake Club in Poland, Ohio joined the LiB’s family full-time in May of 2017, and has taken the helm in the kitchen.
Ritenour, an experienced-trained chef from the Boardman area, has worked his way through the Youngstown culinary world for over 20 years. He has grown his skills and honed his style as he worked his way up from small mom and pop restaurants to fine dining.
Ritenour describes his food style as his heart and soul on a plate. “I want to bring the Salem area a unique and exciting culinary experience in a local, friendly environment. In the past, I have been cooking food that most of my family and friends don’t get to enjoy because of the country-club exclusivity atmosphere, and being able to appeal to the masses has always been deep-rooted in my vision.”
“Having Don at LiB’s has allowed us to expand our food services,” said Ben. “In addition to tacos and Sunday brunch, we have launched Flatbread Fridays and are offering a daily hot breakfast menu.” In addition to the fresh offerings available daily, LiBs has also expanded by offering gourmet lunch boxes and special event catering both on and off-site
Ritenour added “I‘m glad to finally be able to have a place to pursue my goals and dreams and bring creative food ideas to the Salem community. Because LiB’s kitchen is small and we are always coming up with new dishes to utilize fresh and local ingredients, it is an exciting and challenging space to work in.” He went on to say, “The environment of the kitchen provides the ability for an ever-changing, innovative menu that keeps people interested in our food.”
“We always try to provide a vegetarian option, as well as offer gluten-free and allergy-friendly options to meet the varying dietary needs of the community,” said Ben.
Chef Don debuted in his new role this past May with a fun Cinco de Mayo party. “It’s been a productive few months of development,” said Ben, “I think Chef Don fits in great, and the table is set to grow together alongside the expanding food & entertainment culture that is on the rise in Salem.”
As for what the menu is going to be? “We rely heavily on social media to communicate our daily menu, pop-ups, and specials,” said Ratner. To stay current on their daily menu and events, be sure to check out their social media pages. Twitter & Instagram @LiBsMarket and Facebook; facebook/LiBsMarket.