When John and Kimberly Skaggs were sought out by the Wexner Center for the Arts to run a new cafe in 2011, ownership of a restaurant hadn’t necessarily been in the couple’s thoughts for the future, Kimberly Skaggs said.
“It wasn’t something that we had actually planned on. It just happened to be that people knew our history and what our skill set was,” Skaggs said. “We’ve always had a lot of experience in the business. We had always talked about, ‘If we had our own place, this is what we would do.’”
The couple has a storied career in restaurant service between them, cooking and managing at various Columbus, Ohio, eateries. After an eight-year run as co-owners of Heirloom Cafe, the Skaggs are deciding to go out on their own terms.
“The reason we did it was because we’ve been there for 8 1/2 years, and I’m tired. It’s really that simple,” Skaggs said. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but you know, life kind of tells you, ‘You physically can’t do things you want to.’”
The Skaggs officially sold Heirloom to Jeremy Fox, owner of Fox’s Food, LLC, Monday, Skaggs, said.
Fox said he’s been in the restaurant and food industry since 2011, when he opened the Short North Bagel Deli. The deli originally opened as a food cart, but increased demand led to the addition of a food truck that stands inside both Ohio Stadium and the Schottenstein Center.
Fox said he still owns the Short North Bagel Deli, along with Blocks Bagels Bexley. He said his goal is to have a “restaurant group,” so when he saw Heirloom was up for sale, he did research on how the cafe was run over the years and was ready to jump on the opportunity.
“After meeting with [Skaggs] and meeting the staff, everything looked good,” Fox said. “And obviously, the food is top-notch, and the location on campus is perfect.”
Fox said he doesn’t have any plans to make changes to how Heirloom operates, other than adding some bagels to the menu, of course.
“I equate it to Ryan Day taking over for Urban Meyer. It wasn’t a weakness move; it was a strength move,” Fox said. “I’m going to do my best to run it the exact same way.”
Despite the change in ownership, Fox said it’s important to continue the traditions and standards set by the Skaggs.
Heirloom’s goal has remained the same: Source as much of the food from as close to home as possible, Kimberly Skaggs said.
Up until 2014, Skaggs said they grew herbs outside of the Wexner Center, a testament to their commitment to staying local. She said it was a “big part” of what they did, but they eventually outgrew the spot.
After an unsuccessful trial run at their home, Skaggs said they moved operations back inside the Wexner Center.
“Now, we do mostly herbs and planters out back of the cafe,” she said. “They are things that are not accessible to the public, but you can see it over the ledge.”
Another important facet of Heirloom’s operations is sourcing from smaller, family-run businesses or farms that are ethically and sustainably run, Skaggs said. Another requirement, though not an absolute necessity, is to get organic food.
“At every step, we have to decide: Can we find what we need in the volume that we need close?” Skaggs said. “If not, then we have to switch to something else. But we try to make the best choices that we can.”
The menu features vegan options and locally sourced meats, such as turkey, chicken and pork. The crowd favorites are the fiesta taco bowl and quinoa salad, Skaggs said.
The fiesta bowl includes spiced ground turkey with fiesta pinto beans, white cheddar, cilantro, crumbled tortilla chips and romaine lettuce tossed with cumin-lime dressing. The quinoa salad starts with a base of either chicken or baked tofu with arugula, spinach, red quinoa, garbanzo beans, feta, toasted Brazil nuts and a cumin-lime vinaigrette.
Skaggs said owning the cafe has been a joy for her, and she’ll miss the place immensely.
The word “heirloom” has two different meanings, and Skaggs said each is intended to be represented in the spirit of the restaurant.
“For [the younger] generation, ‘heirloom’ means food, but to an older generation, ‘heirloom’ means something that was passed down, like an antique or that kind of thing,” Skaggs said. “It was really important to us to honor what was important to us.”
Now, Skaggs will pass the cafe down to Fox. She said she’ll forever cherish the opportunity she had to own the place.
“When I look back at what was the most important thing to me, having a cafe is the opportunity to get to know people,” Skaggs said. “Being able to be part of someone’s life at such a pivotal, important part of their life has been such an honor.”
Heirloom Cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Ohio State meal plans are not accepted as a form of payment, though BuckID cash is accepted.