Michelin Star chef on schedule to open restaurant in Willoughby

Dante Boccuzzi said the opportunity to open a restaurant in Willoughby presented itself through friends who operate businesses in the city’s historic downtown.

“They were looking to partner with a chef and come up with a new idea, and bring some new dining experiences to the area,” said the chef, who will be opening up Dukes ‘n Boots in January. Construction for the country-themed restaurant is currently underway at 4027 Erie St.

Construction for Dante Boccuzzi's Dukes 'n Boots country-themed restaurant is currently underway at 4027 Erie St. in downtown Willoughby. (Marah Morrison -- The News-Herald)

Boccuzzi envisions Dukes ‘n Boots as a casual place that will have a country feel to it.

“It’ll have a lot of wood,” he said. “They’re two older buildings, so there’s a lot of work that has to come together. They had to gut the two buildings, so there are new floors, basement and the outside patio is a new addition. It’ll have heaters and will be used most of the year.”

In addition, the restaurant, which will be Boccuzzi’s 10th, will feature two large bars, and the main focus of the food will be fried chicken.

Construction for Dante Boccuzzi's Dukes 'n Boots country-themed restaurant is currently underway at 4027 Erie St. in downtown Willoughby. (Marah Morrison -- The News-Herald)

“This is something different for me,” he said. “I was working on a fried chicken concept during the (coronavirus) shutdown, so this is the opportunity of launching it. Willoughby seemed like a good market and the setting just made a lot of sense.”

Boccuzzi pursued his craft in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, London, Milan, Hong Kong and New York City, where he earned a Michelin Star, was twice nominated for the James Beard House Rising Star Chef Award and recognized as a Rising Star Chef with Star Chefs.

Boccuzzi has worked with and for Nobu Matsuhisa, Giorgio Armani and Robert De Niro. His personal career milestone is the 2010 opening of Dante, featuring modern American cuisine and located in the Tremont neighborhood in Cleveland.

In 2016, Dante’s Inferno opened at Progressive Field, serving hand-crafted pizza. Later that month, Boccuzzi opened Northside Speakeasy, a craft cocktail bar in the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. September of 2017 marked the opening of the second location of Dante’s Inferno. The full scale, Italian restaurant is located in the recently renovated Flats East Bank near downtown Cleveland.

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Willoughby is pleased to welcome the chef and his team to the culinary scene in Downtown Willoughby, said Economic Development Director Tom Thielman.

“Dante has a distinct flair for creating restaurant concepts that combine great tasting menus with funky, trendy vibes,” he said. “This continues Willoughby’s trend as a food destination.”

This level of investment in Willoughby is indicative of its continued push to become an art and cultural destination, Thielman said. Great food is a key part of that strategy.

“As we build toward the future with strategic projects like the amphitheater, Chagrin River trail and the renovation of Willoughby Union High, Willoughby is positioning itself to maintain its stature as one of the premier Ohio cities for families to live, work and play,” he said.

Boccuzzi said he enjoys the ever-changing restaurant industry and believes there’s always an opportunity to grow and try stuff that’s new.

“It never gets dull,” he said. “I’m more downtown and west side, so it’s exciting to branch out into these new areas. It’s a new community I’m looking forward to being a part of.”