On a Wednesday night in October, the only propped door on the block belongs to The Arb at Tappan. The new restaurant is located in Downtown Oberlin—not, in fact, near the good ole swimming hole rope swing—and has only been open since the beginning of the month. Already, it seems to provide a new and much-needed liveliness to the block of dormant businesses that, sadly, occupy West College Street. The Arb, too, is open a bit later than its neighbors (until 10 PM). There is a familial warmth about its presence amid the slow hum of an Oberlin weeknight. Leaves drift along the sidewalk, scarved families follow them, and a few podded friends and I exchange groggy, though grateful “How Was Your Day?”s as we settle at an outside table. It is sometimes easy, trudging through this year’s iteration of the white-knuckled autumn routine—Dorm Room, 16oz Azariah’s With Room for Cream, Antibacterial Wipe, Class, Back to Dorm Room, Zoom, Work Shift, Homework, Sleep (Well, Maybe)—to forget to enjoy the Oberlin community outside of campus. Stepping into The Arb, one remembers there is softness in this little Midwestern college town. It’s a great pause to the merry festivities of college midterms.
The Arb is owned by Morgan Smith and her father, Henry Smith, both of whom are lifelong Oberlin residents and Black business owners. Their dedication to the local community is immediately apparent. Having known Morgan Smith for all of fifteen minutes as she prepared orders, she was already addressing me by name and cracking jokes as she handed me a stack of napkins. Indeed, though The Arb offers a clean, fresh college town atmosphere, vegan options, and smoothies, it does not shrug away the charm of a small-town family business. The open door and giggling children ducking in and out of it are evidence of this. It’s a restaurant for the town as well as the college; quick service as well as friendly conversation. Thinking post-COVID, one can imagine it being a great new hangout space for the whole community with its bright interior, big sofas, and handwritten sign before the fridge exclaiming “COLD POP 2.00.” For now, however, the distanced sidewalk seating facing Tappan Square does just fine.
As for the menu, The Arb caters to casual, to-go orders like sandwiches, wraps, salads, and smoothies, with plenty of variety between them. There were several vegan and vegetarian options to choose from. So much so, that it was even hard to decide; none of them read as slapped-together or that of rabbit food. After much deliberation, I opted for a Veggie Delight on a sub. Being from the South, I’m often wary of ordering sauteed veggie dishes in Ohio—I used to carry around my Slap Ya Mama! Cajun Seasoning but, after a significant bag spillage, retired the habit—but The Arb had me covered. The veggies—mushrooms, peppers, spinach, and tomato—were juicy, flavorful, and heaped onto a crisp french bread sub, cut in half. Kettle potato chips were served on the side. Everything was hot and fresh, including my friends’ Hot Ham and Cheese and Turkey Club. And, judging by the empty deli paper convening like little tumbleweeds on our table, no complaints were to be had.
As well as a great idea for dinner, The Arb at Tappan is an exciting development in Oberlin and a great addition to the great history of Black-owned businesses in the area. I can’t wait to visit the Smiths again, but next time I have got to get my hands on that grilled cheese (four cheeses)!
The Arb at Tappan is located in Downtown Oberlin, sandwiched between Hanson’s Records and Gibson’s. Its hours are 8 AM – 10 PM every day.