At their Chagrin Falls headquarters, the four Shibley siblings gather around a large wooden table and taste test pita pizza varieties they are thinking of adding to the menu, and no one is shy about voicing their reviews.
“There’s too much pesto on that one.”
“It needs more marinara sauce.”
“We should try slicing the olives next time.”
It’s not a normal family conversation, but this is not a typical family meal. For brothers Art, Lawrence and Jeffrey Shibley and sister Darlene Shibley Ziegenhagen, owners of Yours Truly restaurants, discussing new menu items is serious business. With seven restaurants to their credit, and an eighth on the way, Yours Truly has become a staple in the local dining industry. They are best known throughout Northeast Ohio for their hospitable service and wide variety of menu choices at affordable prices. The business was self-sufficient from day one, says Lawrence Shibley, president of Shibley Management. Founded by the Shibley brothers in Beachwood in 1981, Yours Truly was serving 400 to 500 meals a day in their cozy 32-seat restaurant. What started as a side endeavor quickly blossomed into a full-time job.
“When we started we didn’t have a master plan and we still don’t have a master plan,” Lawrence says. And that, the siblings agree, contributes to their success. Not driven by the bottom line, Lawrence says they expand the business only if it means positive growth, which has been gradual over the past 26 years.
Before opening a new location, the Shibleys are careful they have established name recognition in a community. If they hear people are traveling from Mentor to a neighboring Yours Truly, for example, then they consider opening in that area. Lawrence calls it expanding from “A to B” instead of “A to Z” — taking short jumps from market to market, instead of giant leaps. They would never suddenly jump from a Medina location to the far West Side of Cleveland where it’s possible no one has heard of the family-owned eatery, he says.
“We do what we do for the customers that come in,” says Lawrence, who brought with him to the company a background in finance, real estate and store location and design. “People think of Yours Truly as an extension of their home. They can sit there for two hours and read the newspaper (and no one will bother them).”
Currently, the seven locations include the original restaurant in Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Mentor, Mayfield Village, Medina and Shaker Square. An eighth location is in the works, Lawrence says, but he would not divulge the location because the deal has not been finalized.
Ask any sibling and they will all tell you the same story — their Lebanese upbringing prepared the Orange High School graduates for the restaurant business at an early age. Food was made from scratch in their Pepper Pike home. Their mother made her own yogurt and would have never thought of buying pre-ground beef, says Vice President Darlene Shibley Ziegenhagen.
Their mom would host 25 people at one time for a sit-down dinner in their dinning room. “Entertaining in our house was a business,” Lawrence recalls. “We were taught to make people comfortable, and we were taught how to serve.”
But perusing the Yours Truly menu shows little reflection on their familiar Lebanese cuisine. Lawrence gives two reasons for the more American-style offerings: First, when they opened, Lebanese food was not as popular as it is today. And second, he says most of their ethnic foods have to be prepared a special way, and to teach others to do it would be time consuming and difficult.
Darlene, who joined the Yours Truly enterprise in 1985 after working as a chef in France, is quick to point out a few distinctive flavors on the menu. From the board table at their Chagrin Falls offices, she picks up a small ceramic bowl, half filled with grated cheese and half filled with red peppercorns — only grown in France, she says.
The lemon-flavored peppercorns are sprinkled atop Yours Truly salads. “It’s a unique item,” Darlene says. “People don’t expect it.”
A most notably American menu item is its trademarked Notso Fries — round, crinkle-cut fries covered in melted Swiss and American cheeses, bacon bits and sour cream — created by Yours Truly employees who would eat them as a snack in the kitchen. The fries have garnered quite a following, even earning a Web site fan club in their honor, which currently has 180 members.
When Yours Truly opened in the early ’80s, it was a trend for other restaurants to have no exceptions policies, such as no substitutions, sharing or separate checks. With their customers’ wants in mind, Yours Truly refused to follow this fad.
They offered menu disclosure of all nutrition information and smoke-free locations before it was legally required. All seven restaurants are also equipped with WiFi connections.
“This is a concept that is sincerely for you,” says Vice President Art Shibley, who spent much of his time as a sales representative for a local meat company before co-founding Yours Truly. “It’s truly yours.” And with customers in mind, he adds, all food is fresh and made to order following strict Yours Truly guidelines and recipes designed by the Shibleys.
In every kitchen, each Yours Truly recipe is detailed step-by-step and accompanied by a photograph of what the end result must look like. Each one of Yours Truly’s 400 employees must go through extensive training before officially joining the team.
Since its origination the chain has seen its share of the public spotlight. The Mentor Yours Truly tested the palate of President Bush in 2005 during his tax reform campaign. Patrons of the Shaker Square location were interviewed for an evening segment of CNN after Bush’s State of the Union address last year.
And in 2004, the Shibleys were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Greater Cleveland Restaurant Association.
Throughout their more than 20 years in the business, a few imitators have come along, but they have failed to achieve anywhere near the success of Yours Truly. Lawrence says a big secret to their success is negotiation when it comes to purchasing food and paying rent — keeping these costs down have given them the ability to keep the menu prices low.
And their cautious attitude about expansion has been the other key ingredient in staying profitable, according to Vice President Jeffrey Shibley. He says he has known restaurants that open with detailed plans on how and when they will expand — opening three locations in three years, six within the next five.
“And then within three years they are out of business because they became so obsessed (with growth),” Jeffrey says.
Jeffrey, the youngest of the Shibley siblings, is credited with choosing Yours Truly’s first location in Beachwood, previously known as Our Gang. Jeffrey worked his way through college at this Chagrin Boulevard restaurant as a cook and manager. After a stint in sales in Georgia, Jeffrey returned home and confided in his brothers that he wanted to run his own restaurant.
“There’s nothing else I would ever do,” he says. “By owning your own business, you’re able to come up with creative solutions to problems. We all love our company because we created it.”