By Trey Razanauskas
“Cleveland is a sandwich town,” says James Muhammad, owner of . “It’s blue collar; it’s a gritty city, and our sandwiches reflect that.”
After eating at Capo’s and talking to Muhammad, I can confirm that his restaurant reflects this city. Muhammad was born in Cleveland before he moved to Philadelphia where he graduated high school. It was in Philly where he developed his love for cheesesteaks. This love stayed with him when he moved to Chicago and opened up his first Capo’s Restaurant in 2010. From there, Muhammad moved back to Cleveland in 2014 and opened up Capo’s in East Cleveland. Then in 2018, he moved it to Glenville. While still in Glenville for the time being, Capo’s signed a 10-year lease in University Circle on Euclid Avenue and Mayfield. Capo’s is looking to expand to Shaker Heights in the near future.
I stopped by the Capo’s University Circle location in July to see, and taste for myself. The menu is simple and the storefront is small, but it has a very friendly atmosphere. Muhammad explained how Capo’s is a family business with his children, cousins, and other relatives working together to keep the restaurant running smoothly.
I ordered the classic cheesesteak value meal and waited for it to be ready. On the wall were some framed pictures paying homage to Cleveland’s own Black history. As someone who has family in Philly and has had cheesesteaks from some of the “world famous” cheesesteak spots, my expectations were pretty high. Capo’s exceeded them with a delicious meal at a great price. The sandwich was tender and filling, and the fries were hot and seasoned perfectly. I added a drink of my choice for under $10 and walked away extremely satisfied.
Muhammad takes great pride in his business and is humbled by the support Capo’s has received since coming to Cleveland. While the journey has not always been easy, Muhammad remembers the times he was struggling to make ends meet. The difficulties have made it even more beautiful. Capo’s has lasted because Muhammad does not try to complicate things. He makes good food, and he is good to his customers. As a Black-owned business, Capo’s does a good job of serving its community, but that doesn’t mean it has a limited clientele. Customers of all backgrounds love Muhammad’s sandwiches. “We always welcome everyone,” said Muhammad, “All races, genders, ages.” That combo of good food and good service, like his sandwich, fries, and drink combo, is a winner.
Capo’s reminds me a lot of Cleveland itself. It was built with hard work and resiliency, and it’s the type of place where anybody can feel welcome. Plus, both Capo’s and Cleveland have room for extraordinary growth. Muhammad said he sees the city with potential to expand because of its diverse and appealing amenities. He’s noticed that more and more people are becoming interested in Cleveland as it creates a new identity and loses its poor reputation from the past. Similarly, his restaurant Capo’s is ripe to grow into multiple locations around Cleveland in the coming years.
Muhammad wrapped up our conversation with positivity and love. It’s clear he is invested in this city and is very hopeful for the future. By continuing to welcome everyone and make tasty food at good prices, Capo’s is on a great trajectory for the future. “I love Cleveland,” said Muhammad. Cleveland, let’s show him and his restaurant love back.