Nestled in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, Kinsman Grill was a popular restaurant, bar, and music venue that operated from 1937 to 1983. Opening in 1937 under the ownership of Isadore Berkowitz, a Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire, Kinsman Grill started its days primarily as a bar that served both Black and white patrons in the neighborhood. Berkowitz owned the bar for only a few years before passing away in 1941.
Morris Kritzer, another Jewish immigrant who immigrated to Cleveland from Poland in 1928, acquired the premises in circa 1945. Many changes came to Kinsman Grill under his ownership. One important change that happened was the introduction of the club lounge, introduced in 1949. This club lounge was available for “parties, club gatherings, receptions, and get-togethers” and likely drew in more business for Kinsman Grill. It was also around this time that Kritzer began to introduce various live musicians to perform during the evenings. These musicians performed a variety of genres, such as jazz, blues, and R&B. These genres being featured at Kinsman Grill helped to bring a more predominantly Black clientele to the restaurant that enjoyed the live music and socializing.
It was also during this time that crime rates in Mount Pleasant began to rise. In August 1954, Morris Kritzer was robbed in his Shaker Heights home. He was tied up in a guest bedroom while two unidentified robbers stole $1,500 in cash and $500 in checks (a total of $22,893.94 in 2023) before escaping from a window. Kritzer also noted a rise of crime, oftentimes violent in nature, in his establishment over his decades as proprietor. Because of this, he wrote a resolution for a meeting of the Ohio License Beverage Association in March 1972. In the resolution, Kritzer condemned the California Supreme Court’s decision to abolish the death penalty, as he believed that abolishing the death penalty would grant “robbers and murderers the right to pass a death penalty on store operators and owners”. After owning Kinsman Grill for 28 years, Kritzer sold the bar in 1973. Kinsman Grill’s new owner was Sonny Jones, a Cleveland native.
It was during this ownership transtition that in 1974, a band by the name of Bell Telefunk became the house band for Kinsman Grill. As their time in the grill progressed, they changed their name to Kinsman Dazz, “dazz” being a portmanteau of “danceable jazz”. The group worked to advance their musical expertise, signing a record deal with Twentieth Century Fox Records in 1978 and having their first album produced by Philip Bailey of the band Earth, Wind, and Fire. In 1980, Sonny Jones became the band’s co-manager in Sunray Management. The band also signed a new record deal with Motown Records and changed its name to the Dazz Band.
On February 12th, 1982, the Dazz Band made a major breakthrough when they released their hit song, “Let It Whip”. The song quickly became the number one R&B single nationwide and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in the same year as well. This marked the first time that a Cleveland musical group won a Grammy. The band also embarked on their first national tour starting in May and were granted a key to the city of Cleveland by then-mayor George Voinovich. As they gained more prominence, they began to give back to the community from which they came. This involved going to Cleveland schools to encourage students to graduate, as well as buying a share of the Cleveland Community Savings Company, a Black-owned savings and loan.
Meanwhile at Kinsman Grill, Sonny Jones was beginning to contemplate closing down the restaurant. He was known to live an unprincipled lifestyle and for many years, did not think twice about it. However, his outlook on life changed after saving two children from a burning building in 1976, as well as undergoing two near-death experiences while running the grill. Jones began attending meetings for the Neighborhood Safety Organization and was baptized at Providence Baptist Church, both while still running Kinsman Grill. Once he was called a hypocrite for running the grill while attending church across the street from it, it became clear to Jones what he needed to do. He closed down Kinsman Grill in November of 1983.
However, this was not the end of Sonny Jones’s club-owning days. Not long after closing down Kinsman Grill, Jones re-opened it as the Alternative Christian Nightclub. At this club, patrons were offered non-alcoholic soda cocktails and listened to gospel music instead of R&B or funk. The Alternative stayed open until at least 1987, but closed down at an unclear time. As of 2023, the building which housed it no longer exists.
For nearly 40 years, Kinsman Grill was an integral part of Mount Pleasant’s social fabric. It provided a place for Black patrons to enjoy live music and a drink with others. It also produced a band that was groundbreaking for Cleveland’s music scene, as well as highly philanthropic toward the Black community of the area. Though it has been about 40 years since Kinsman Grill originally closed, its influence lives on in the Dazz Band and Cleveland’s music history as a whole.
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- “Display Ad 28 — No Title.” Call & Post. September 3, 1949.
- House-Soremekun, Bessie. Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland. 2nd ed. Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2009.
- Kritzer, Morris. “For Death Penalty.” The Plain Dealer. March 12, 1972.
- Michney, Todd M. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
- “Rob Owner of Kinsman Grill.” Call and Post. August 7, 1954.
- Scott, Jane. “Kinsman Dazz – between daze and dazzle”. The Plain Dealer. October 6, 1978.
- Scott, Jane. “Kinsman Dazz – more than just dazzle.” The Plain Dealer. December 12, 1980.
- U.S. Census Bureau. Fifteenth Census of the United States 1930: Population Schedule. April 1, 1930.
- U.S. Census Bureau. Sixteenth Census of the United States 1940: Population Schedule. April 1, 1940.
- U.S. Census Bureau. Seventeenth Census of the United States 1950: Population Schedule. April 1, 1950.
- Williams, Margaret. “Famous Kinsman Grill becomes Alternative Christian nightclub.” Call and Post. May 10, 1984.
- Wood, William R. “Dazz Band Embarks On National Tour With No. 1 Hit Single.” Call and Post. May 29, 1982.
- “Your Alternative celebrates anniv.” Call & Post. May 14, 1987.