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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

It's finally time for food, fun and summer memories

A child is behind the wheel of a car in the miniature auto ride at Shady Lake Park in Streetsboro
Gurmukh S. Bhatia
The Kiddie Autos at Shady Lake Park in Streetsboro were among the many children's rides imported from Euclid Beach Park when it closed in 1969. The Humphrey family only kept Shady Lake afloat from 1978-82.

Summer’s here and the time is right for Ideastream’s guide to food, fun and festivals.

I volunteered to write this edition of “The Cut” to ensure the list gets excessive, shameless exposure. It’s three months of activities compiled along the lines of our weekly, curated list of "5 Things to Do" in Northeast Ohio. The list is live now and if you didn’t get a chance to click on the previous link, then here it is again. Like I said, shameless.

I started with a gargantuan collection of activities from our 22 counties, slowly whittling down to what’s now online. If your favorite event isn’t included, there was no offense intended; drop me a line and perhaps we can include it next year.

One destination my younger self would love to have seen on the list, but which is sadly not included because this is not a nostalgia list: Shady Lake Park. It had a short life in Streetsboro, from 1978-82, and was essentially a continuation of the fondly remembered Euclid Beach Park. It had the same owners, many of the same maintenance personnel and a lot of the same rides.

I have no memory of Shady Lake in operation, but that’s me riding around in beautiful Kodachrome at the top of this article. During the 1980s, the park was dismantled and the rides sold off. The archway (a replica of the one at Euclid Beach) stood tauntingly along Route 14 until 2004, when it was demolished for new development on the site. My only related memory is driving by, wondering if Shady Lake was somehow a spin-off of nearby Geauga Lake. The archway seemed to represent the ongoing sense of loss in Northeast Ohio. Sadly, both amusement parks are gone today.

Another favorite destination of mine is still going strong, though it, too, is not on the list because its appeal, to me, is not confined to summer. Swenson's opened in 1934 to serve the bustling Rubber City of Akron. One deleted apostrophe and 90 years later, it’s grown beyond Summit County, into the hearts of Ohioans and onto the national stage.

“From 1934 all the way up until 2017, we had 7 restaurants,” said CEO Jeff Flowers. “Quick math… that was, effectively, one restaurant a decade.”

Swensons restaurant in Akron
Swensons, or Swenson's, started in Akron in 1934. It was a big year for Ohio: the All-American Soap Box Derby debuted in Dayton, workers staged a massive strike at the Electric Auto-Lite plant in Toledo and FBI agents captured and killed Pretty Boy Floyd in East Liverpool.

The 23-year veteran of the drive-in chain worked his way up from a curb server to running the company. In his decade at the helm, he’s proud to have nearly tripled the size of the chain, including the first Swensons outside of Ohio.

“I would love to be in a position where we have expanded so far that we can't figure out how to get that fresh beef or the fresh buns to them anymore,” he said. “That would be a wonderful problem to solve right now.”

One problem that he has solved made him a veritable cheese whiz.

“When we’re selling 5 million slices a year, hand-slicing it, we weren't doing it consistently,” he said.

COVID closures had driven diners to drive-ins and the increased volume at Swensons strained staff and the supply chain.

The pandemic-era switch to different brands of cheese, as well as ketchup, has been reversed in time for the company’s anniversary. Flowers seemed genuinely tickled to discuss the change during our chat. He also rhapsodized about the personnel running the company. In a half-hour, he used the words “servers,” “people,” “team” and “staff” more than three dozen times. Never just “workers.” And he only used the word “employee” once, referencing the labor force of 700. The company seems to be a point of pride not just for its CEO, but for an entire region.

My first time visiting was in the summer of 1999, when a friend bet me that Mel Torme had, in fact, written "The Christmas Song." The wager was a Swensons meal. My misplaced confidence that Jimmy Van Heusen had penned the song that we know as "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" propelled me toward my first visit to the drive-in (and picking up the check).

And what about that apostrophe? I filed this story several years ago about what happened to the company’s name and logo. At some point, at least 60 years ago, Wesley "Pop" Swenson's possessiveness gave way to the simply pluralized name we know today. I never solved the mystery, but with an anniversary looming, I asked Flowers for the answer.

“The apostrophe got lost so long ago that we decided we were just going to move on without it,” he said.

But don’t you move on without checking out our guide to summer events!

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.