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Former UT standout returns to open restaurant on campus

By Nate Pentecost
On January 9, 2013

Three storied years as the University of Toledo’s starting quarterback propelled Bruce Gradkowski to his on-going NFL career. Now, the Rockets football legend is returning to his adopted home with a new business venture.

The latest establishment to hit UT’s Gateway Project, Gradkowski’s, a sports-themed bar and grill, is set to open its doors to the public Friday, Jan. 11.

“It’s honestly a dream come true to know that the university has worked with us to make this happen,” Gradkowski said. “To think that I can give back to the university and bring something cool to the community is great. I think we’re in a great location for the nearby areas to enjoy and it means so much to me that we can all share in it together.”

The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback is partnering in the venture with Mike Graber, a former managing partner at Biaggi’s in Levis Commons, and Singh Grewal, part owner of Arnie’s at Levis.

Graber, who has participated in opening over 25 restaurants, is in charge of day-to-day operations, while Grewal, a Toledo football player during the ’90s, was instrumental in the restaurant’s design. Gradkowski is, of course, the figurehead of the operation but according to Graber, the signal caller is interested in educating himself in all aspects of the restaurant.

“He’s going to be a spokesman in our commercials [and] he’ll be on our website, but he wants to learn the business as well,” Graber said of Gradkowski, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and management in 2005. “He’s trying to set himself up for life after football so he’s asking a million questions [because] he’s never had anything to do with the restaurant business before.”

The menu is American with an Italian influence, a nod to Gradkowski’s heritage. Dishes will be freshly prepared and made-from-scratch, including over a dozen appetizers, hand-cut steaks, select pastas, specialty pizzas, high-end burgers and desserts.

“Our food is cooked with love,” Gradkowski said with a laugh. “It’s not always going to stay the same, we’re going to change, but it’s going to be food that isn’t often around the area that people will be able to come and enjoy. We’re really going to have it all and I’m excited to bring that to campus.”

Far more than the college bar some anticipated when the project was first announced, Gradkowski’s will also have an extensive wine list, chosen from small, carefully tended vineyards in Italy, California, Oregon and Ohio among other locations.

Handcrafted specialty beers will be on tap and prohibition cocktails with a contemporary twist will also be available. Despite some of the more upscale dishes and drinks, Graber reiterated that items “are going to be priced where everyone’s able to enjoy them.”

The atmosphere will be cozy, featuring natural woods, detailed stonework, and warm, neutral colors. The restaurant’s “UT Hall of Fame” wall will tout signed photographs of UT players and local celebrities, while its media wall will boast nine 55-inch flat screen televisions.

“The beauty of it is on a Friday or Saturday night when you go out with your wife or on a date, nobody wants you staring at the game, so we can hit a button and turn that wall into a beautiful fireplace or a winter wonderland scheme, for example” Graber explained. “It’s going to be very cool.”

Gradkowski hopes his restaurant will not only draw students, faculty and staff, but those in surrounding communities, such as Ottawa Hills, Sylvania and Maumee.

The Pittsburgh native and his wife Miranda met at UT and recently bought a house in Maumee where they reside in the NFL offseason.

“I had a great experience at college and the city of Toledo was so good to me,” Gradkowski said. “[Miranda and I] enjoyed it so much so we just wanted to call Toledo our home. Especially with the restaurant going up on campus, we couldn’t be more excited about how everything has worked out.”

Neither party recalls who approached who, but Matt Schroeder, vice president of real estate and business development at the UT Foundation is confident the venture will benefit both Gradkowski and the Toledo community.

“It’s really an opportunity to not only showcase the collegian and professional sports through a restaurant, but over the next decade and beyond, it could really become integrated into the UT way of life, the UT family, and become the go-to venue, for all things university-related,” Schroeder said.

The Gateway Project is currently home to Barnes & Nobles, Great Clips, Jimmy John’s, Rice Blvd., Starbucks, Wireless Zone, Yogurt U. and the Lofts at Gateway. Three empty spots remain in the development, but according to Schroeder negotiations have been wrapped up for two of them. He believes the addition of Gradkowski’s will help other businesses on the storefront.

“It was a decision generated not only by returns but also ancillary benefits of the student experience and how a tenant like Gradkowski’s helps other tenants with ancillary business, spillover, or ripple effect, if you want to call it that,” Schroeder said.12

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