2022 Community Leader of the Year: Sean Watterson

by | Nov 1, 2022

Meet the guy who’s one part businessman, one part foodie, one part advocate and all-in on customers making a difference for local restaurants.
The recipe that goes into making a guy like Sean Watterson is anything but conventional.

He’s one part businessman (when pressed, he estimates he’d be making more than $1 million a year if he’d stuck with his banking job in New York City), one part foodie (he co-owns Happy Dog in Gordon Square), one part enthusiast (have you been to Happy Dog?) and one part advocate.

Watterson and Sean Kilbane opened Happy Dog in 2008. The local hot spot is known for its menu of hot dogs and veggie dogs served with a choice of 50 toppings. It’s also a destination known for supporting local musicians.

Admittedly, Watterson and Kilbane had no experience in the industry. Happy Dog turned out to be a success — until the pandemic. That’s when the advocate side of Watterson kicked into an even higher gear. He’d long been an advocate for community and the arts, helping to form Art EverySpace, which connects local artists with real estate developers, and taking home the Cleveland Arts Prize in 2021.

The new challenges created by COVID-19 inspired hundreds of venue owners nationwide — including Watterson, who led the Ohio precinct — to launch the National Independent Venue Association. The group successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress for a $16 billion Shuttered Venues Operators Grant in 2020.

Trying to help restaurants was an easy bridge for Watterson to cross.

The Fund for Our Economic Future formalized the work Watterson had been doing informally by selecting him to lead a one-year project on how to help the local hospitality industry.

Continue the full story here.