By David Walker
During the past three decades Rascal House has morphed from a college-campus pizzeria to a high-energy dance club to a world-class gaming arcade. In 1986 it was the best sports bar in town to watch Cleveland State University’s basketball team reach the NCAA Sweet 16.
Now, with the December opening of a new flagship restaurant, a transformation has begun for Rascal House.
When you walk into the new Rascal House at 1835 Euclid Ave., you’re struck by the more modern interior design and aesthetic. It feels hipper but not pretentious. It’s colorful, yet airy. Some have called it California cool. The fresh vibe has been fueled by the creative energy of Niko Frangos, the son of Rascal House founders Mike and Fouly Frangos.
“My grandfather, dad, and uncle all had diners and family restaurants when I was growing up,” Niko Frangos says. “I was always helping out on weekends and during summertime. The restaurant business became a second nature to me.”
Like many sons, however, the Gilmour Academy graduate wanted to explore new boundaries. A talented vocalist and guitarist, Frangos moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to pursue a career in music.
“I was playing in bands but not making much money because it was so competitive,” he says. “I also had an interest in art and film, so I started taking classes at the UCLA film school. Because I liked to draw, I focused on animation. But to get a job in the film industry, you had to have a portfolio. So I enrolled at the Animation Institute in L.A. and spent the next year-and-a-half studying and building my portfolio.”
The hard work paid off. Frangos landed a gig at Turner Feature Animation. The first movie he worked on was “Cats Don’t Dance,” distributed by Warner Brothers. From there he was recruited by Disney Studios, where for nine years he was an animator on box-office hits such as “Tarzan,” “Mulan,” and “Treasure Planet.”
Despite living three time zones away from Cleveland and the family business, Frangos always stayed connected with his parents and Rascal House. In 2002 he started getting more involved with the operation, flying back and forth from the west coast. After its inception in 1980, Rascal House had grown into five retail locations and a large catering business.
“Around 2008 I began transitioning into more of a fulltime role with Rascal House,” Frangos says. “We knew we had a proven system, product, and name. But I began thinking about, ‘Who are we? What is our brand? What do we want to be in the future?’”
The opportunity to put his mark on the franchise was expedited when Cleveland State University purchased the original Rascal House location at East 20th and Euclid in 2013 to make room for its new $45 million Center for Health Innovation Building. In about six months Frangos had to conceptualize, design, and build what the Rascal House model would look like moving forward.
One could imagine Frangos’ Disney experience would have provided him with a litany of creative ideas. But it wasn’t creativity for which he turned to Disney. “Disney was a highly organized machine. What I learned most was a heavy lesson in organization. I wanted to take Rascal House to that level.”
That mission is evident in Rascal House’s catering arm, which serves downtown businesses.
“We can execute quickly in large volumes and with a depth of menu that includes pizza, pasta, salads, wraps, wings, burgers and more,” Frangos says. “We’ve handled boxed lunches for 1,000 construction workers. One time we delivered 500 pizzas to the downtown post office. We’re able to handle any size event. “
Arguably Rascal House’s most impressive organizational skill is its ability to do things quickly.
“You don’t have to call ahead of time for 50 pizzas,” Frangos adds. “Call us just like you are ordering one. We’ll get the pizzas, salad bowl, dressings, wing platters, plates and napkins all set up for you. That’s where we shine.”