Photo by Emma Kate Low.

Five Years Strong

If you’ve not yet made your way over the river and through downtown to experience what Franklinton has to offer, you’re missing out! It’s like grandma’s house, but with a better cocktail selection. Heck, you can even bring your grandma. Nestled between trains, historic infrastructure and new buildings popping up, you’ll find a few businesses that already call Franklinton home. Located in a 100-year-old warehouse shared with artists and startups is where you will find Strongwater Food & Spirits.

Strongwater has a reputation for providing unique vegan eats as well as delicious non-vegan options, including what very well may be the best damn hot chicken sandwich in town. At the center of the culinary creations taking root in Franklinton is the executive chef at Strongwater, Jaime Perez.

‟I come from a background of fine dining. I didn’t dumb that down when I came to Strongwater but I also didn’t want to do what fine dining places do.”

Perez comes from a strong family background in chef coats and has had a hand in many other local restaurants before landing at Strongwater. His love for cooking began as a child in Peru, where he would watch his mother in the kitchen. Here in Columbus, it would grow as his brother, Guillermo Perez, opened a Greek restaurant.

“I started working as a server to help my brother out. During breaks I would cook family meals for the team and learned that I liked that much more than the front of house work.”

A few kitchen gigs later, Perez became the sous chef at Barcelona. While there, he continued helping his Guillermo open Si Señor, the restaurant he owns currently. Perez also provided a hand in the openings of other local kitchens, such as Sidebar and Hot Chicken Takeover.

“I really enjoy helping others as a sort of side gig. It’s cool to see somebody’s idea happen— to know their dream and help it come to fruition,” Perez said.

It was that same enjoyment that led Perez to Strongwater. Lauren Conrath, the general manager at Strongwater, had previously worked with Perez at Barcelona.

“She called me and it was just the right timing. I looked at this as not the chance to be an executive chef, but a chance for me to take on another project,” said Perez.

This project would prove to be a large one and one that had challenged many chefs “with a menu ranging all the way from pretzels and steam buns to meatloaf and potatoes,” Perez observed. It’s not a big staff or a big kitchen so it’s hard to pull off a sporadic menu. It’s hard to keep up with a demand like that.”

Perez continued, “I come from a background of fine dining. I didn’t dumb that down when I came to Strongwater but I also didn’t want to do what fine dining places do. I wanted to create something approachable and the main idea behind the menu was to make it affordable.”

Years later, Chef Perez is still providing quality dining at an affordable price tag, continuing to find the balance between elegance and cost-effectiveness.

“We have our struggles as far as figuring out what we can make work. The development of our menu comes from running specials to find out what works and what doesn’t,” said Perez. I want to give credit to the kitchen staff. I ask my staff to help me develop their ideas. I fine tune with them to create the menu, which we change seasonally.”

The staff at Strongwater is small and includes sous chef Bill Smith, and the line cook and prep staff Kendall Harris, Alex Partlow, Jeremy Allan, Becky Navarro and Eddie Navarro.

Strongwater will be celebrating it fifth anniversary this January. As the Franklinton area grows and changes, Chef Perez, whose winter seasonal offering will be hitting plates soon, is excited for “the opportunity to do cool things with the menu.”

Perez hinted at the possibility of a brunch menu in the near future as well as a Strongwater expansion in the area with the hopes of benefiting the community and growing with the Franklinton neighborhood.

“Franklinton is getting a whole rejuvenation and as more people and businesses come in, we’ll up the ante while staying true to our roots and intent with our menu,” said Perez.

Story by Jess Peer.