A piece of Clintonville dining history ended April 23 when customers ordered their last vegetarian meals at Whole World.
The iconic restaurant and bakery at 3269 N. High St. was founded in 1978 by Dan Otanicar and his wife, Kim.
Otanicar said he sized up his situation with more than a touch of pragmatism: He has been running the restaurant and his food trailer for 39 years and didn’t want to head into another festival season doing both.
“I don’t hate it,” he said. “I love the kids I work with. I absolutely adore the customers. It’s just time.”
It signals a changing landscape in the bedroom community, a neighborhood with a diversity of independent shops now being replaced by gleaming condos and apartments, hip restaurants and bars.
Otanicar sees Clintonville as simply changing with the times. He said it always has been a solid neighborhood in which to do business and its prospects are looking up as more entrepreneurs invest in the community.
Some fellow business owners in Clintonville said they lament the closing of the restaurant, even if it’s the natural life cycle of the trade.
“It’s a sinking feeling,” said Portia Yiamouyiannis, owner of Portia’s Cafe, a vegan restaurant at 4428 Indianola Ave. “It’s horrible. I was there 35 years ago when they put water chestnuts on their pizza, which I hated. Just the thought of them going – it’s such a terrible feeling.”
Yiamouyiannis said Whole World set an early benchmark for vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
“It was good; comforting is the word,” she said. “It was a staple of the community.”
“I was at Whole World the first week they were in existence,” said Phil Wilson, owner of Momentum98, a natural-health store at 3509 N. High St. “I used to shop there all the time. I used to get soup there all the time.”
Wilson, whose shop has been in Clintonville since 1980, said his patronage ebbed and flowed, but customers always have appreciated Whole World and its healthful food.
Its closing isn’t too surprising, he said.
“It’s the way it is because everything changes,” Wilson said. “What a wonderful gift it was when they showed up. It filled a need in the community.”
Whole World baked its own bread, tossed dough for its pizza crust and made all of its desserts from scratch. It started with a few meat options early on, Otanicar said, but went completely vegetarian in 1992.
It started, essentially, as a pizzeria, offering customized pizzas representing the flavors of different countries – hence the name Whole World – and a cornucopia of vegetable toppings.
The evolution of the menu was both fun and grueling, developing meals that were flavorful, always changing and, of course, meatless.
“People have more meatless choices these days,” Otanicar said. “I’ve always told people we’re a high-end restaurant without the high-end prices.”
He said he has been contemplating closing for several years, a thought that picked up momentum in the past year. He made some overtures to sell, which he’s still willing to do for the next month, but said he didn’t accept any offers.
On Easter Sunday, he made the decision to close. He said he didn’t want to set a date but also hoped not to offend his customers with the abruptness of the closing.
“My die-hard customers, the people who know me, understand,” he said.
Last week, while waiting for carryout at Whole World, Lynette Overholser and Jason Ray said they were sad to see it go.
They said they have different food preferences but always found a compromise at the restaurant.
“There’s nothing quite like Whole World in Columbus,” said Overholser, who has been dining at the Clintonville establishment since 1995, when she adopted a vegan diet.
“I’ve never had anything bad here,” said Ray, an omnivore who first ate at the vegetarian restaurant a year ago.