New Dining Services Director at South Franklin Circle Focuses on Seasonal, Regional Dishes and Gardening Alongside Residents

If you are looking for Sandy Bender, chances are you’ll find her in a garden.

As South Franklin Circle’s director of dining services, Chef Bender brings an impressive resume to her duties at Crane House, the Bistro and, of course, Radius, the community’s open-to-the-public restaurant. Among her many noteworthy accomplishments, the Lorain native earned a degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York; helped launch Cleveland’s groundbreaking Piperade, one of the first local restaurants to forge the farm-to-table link, as well as the catering business at Sammy’s; and owned and operated an exclusive catering business, with big-name clients tied to assorted Cleveland sports franchises.

But to be honest, it all started with homegrown Ohio tomatoes.

“My dad and I would eat them right out of the garden, like apples,” Chef Bender recalls. And while she couldn’t know it at the time, the seeds of a career were growing in that family garden, along with the tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus and herbs.

It wasn’t long before her dad started issuing weekly cooking challenges to his little gardener. “He would give me the recipes in the Friday paper, and then buy me all the ingredients,” the chef recalls. “They were always for ‘weird’ stuff – like salmon mousse – but I really liked it. I realized that if I could do something I loved as a job, it wouldn’t really be like working. To this day, being in the kitchen is a wonderful release.”

While cooking is no longer her primary job focus, those early experiences continue to flavor Chef Bender’s culinary philosophy, particularly in her work at Radius.

“Radius is a true fine-dining experience, and a beautiful venue for our residents and the wider community, alike,” she says. “Just look around: there’s the soaring stone fireplace, the cozy outdoor patio, and the view of the pond from the windows. The space is accessible, the acoustics allow for easy conversation and guests can enjoy it all over wine, beer and a full list of cocktails.

“All that makes it a great place to entertain.”

As for the sophisticated dishes coming out of the Radius kitchen, Chef Bender promotes a seasonal, regional mindset. “We seek out local foods as much as possible; use top-rated, locally owned purveyors like Premier Produce and Catanese Classic Seafood; and altogether work with wonderful ingredients.”

Among them, guests can soon count on fresh herbs and produce gathered directly from Chef Bender’s own onsite kitchen garden.

“Yes, I have a plot here,” she laughs. “It’s a great chance for me to get my hands in the dirt!”

On her to-grow list: mini cucumbers, culinary herbs, zucchini and assorted squashes, and, of course, tomatoes. “But I’m no expert,” she says. “One of the reasons this excites me is that I can tap into the expertise of our residents. I’m looking forward to their assistance in terms of what to grow, how to grow it, and how to put it on the menu. I’m always about what the guest likes and how to provide that experience.”

Radius is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. and for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Click here for reservations.