Confident in the uniqueness of his New Orleans-style menu, a local chef is taking another shot at making his Elkhart eatery a success.
Adam and Maggie Williams re-opened Adam’s Bistro on Oct. 20 at 1600 W. Beardsley Ave., in the Beardsley Crossing strip plaza at the northwest corner of Beardsley and West Boulevard. Adam called it a “soft opening” because they haven’t done much advertising or marketing yet.
The couple had operated the restaurant there from 2008 to 2010 before moving it to Concord Mall, then closed in 2012. They cited two reasons the mall didn’t work: it didn’t quite draw the gourmet food clientele they were after, and the mall’s requirement that they keep the mall’s operating hours kept them from spending time with their four children.
Also, Adam’s need to travel back and forth to his native Mississippi to care for his mother, who has pancreatic cancer, made operating two restaurants and their catering business difficult. The couple also runs Unique Blend, a restaurant at 805 Bower St.
But the Williamses said they never planned on permanently closing Adam’s Bistro. They have redecorated the interior and crafted a new menu featuring the New Orleans and Cajun fare that Adam grew to love in his childhood.
Entrées include jambalaya, a Cajun enchilada, gumbo, ettoufée, shanks and greens, crab cakes, salmon crouquettes and crawfish Monica. There’s also an assortment of soups, sandwiches and salads.
The restaurant will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays, with beignets and chicory coffee for breakfast.
Ettoufée, Adam explained, is cream-based shrimp served over a bed of rice that is flavored with “trinity,” a mix of peppers, onions and celery that’s a common base for that region’s cuisine.
A couple of popular items from the prior menu are making a comeback — like the Lion Iverson salad, named after a regular at Unique Blend. Adam also has added his magnolia sausage, which he grew up eating in Mississippi, to the new bistro lineup.
Adam said about 65 percent of the company’s revenue comes from catering. While the restaurant had been closed over the past two years, the Williamses kept catering under the Adam’s Bistro name, using Facebook for marketing and running the catering out of the Unique Blend kitchen — so the Adam’s Bistro brand identity has remained strong in clients’ eyes, Adam said.
“We do a lot of catering and focus a lot on groups. We’ve been open a week and I’ve had two groups of 60,” he said. “I tell a lot of people, going into a restaurant and thinking you’re going to survive just off the walk-in traffic, it’s not going to happen.”
Over the past five years, the Williamses have enjoyed donating and serving food at charitable events, and that exposure, while it’s not their motivation for “giving back to the community,” drives paid catering business from area nonprofits, Adam said.
As of now, it’s tough to spot Adam’s Bistro if you’re driving down Beardsley Avenue, but Adam said he will soon erect a sign to help with visibility.
Aside from lunch and dinner dining, the Williamses have some other things planned at both restaurants. Using equipment they bought a month ago from Bristol-based Maple City Java (their former coffee supplier who recently went out of business), they now freshly roast, grind and blend their own gourmet coffees at Adam’s Bistro.
They plan to start selling those coffees pre-packaged, along with wine jelly, apple butter, jambalaya mix and different rices. They also plan to sell cold cuts.
“Our clientele is a lot of business people,” Adam said. “They’ll come in and a lot of times these people will try to figure out what they’ll have for supper, so they’ll grab the jambalaya or some meat for sandwiches. In this area is CTS, Elkhart Brass, HIMCO…we’re surrounded by a lot of business people. Most of these companies have always been huge supporters of us, so it’s not like they’re getting to know us. They already know us.”
And they hope the lunch traffic will receive a boost from two more businesses that are moving into the Beardsley Avenue/West Boulevard intersection. Car Tech II, an auto repair shop, is building a new facility on the southeast corner and plans to open in mid-November, and HIMCO’s parent company, Waste-Away Group, plans to move its headquarters into the now-vacant former Mennonite Church USA offices at the southwest corner.
Aside from the location, Adam and Maggie like that they’re serving something that can’t be found elsewhere in Elkhart.
“There’s no New Orleans style restaurant in this area … authentic stuff,” Adam said. “You look at the menu and see stuff like the Knuckle Sandwich and the Adam Bomb. When I moved to this area, I saw that the restaurant clientele was very meat and potatoes, all the same stuff.”
”But people around here love the different dishes,” Maggie noted.
The Knuckle Sandwich has ham, Swiss cheese and a hash-browned potatoes patty, melted in a panini with mustard greens.
Also on the horizon, in the next month or so, are plans to change Unique Blend to a coffee shop and bakery that would sell baked goods wholesale to area restaurants and retailers.
Adam said retailers often ask him whether he wholesales his baked goods. He plans to use equipment and recipes that he bought from the former Allen’s Cake Shoppe, a longtime downtown bakery that closed in 2006.
”It’s probably like an $18,000 oven, it’s huge,” Adam said. ”I’m thinking about having a bakery where people can actually sit in there and see people making cakes and stuff. We want to do wholesale to ship all over the place.”
Over the past five years, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Williamses have sold a lot of southern-influenced cakes and pies.
”We thought, huh, why should we just do this twice a year?“
The couple still hasn’t come to an agreement over whether Unique Blend should continue as a restaurant.
”I don’t want to, she wants to,” Adam said. She said, ’What about our burgers? People love our burgers,’” Adam said. ”I said, sometimes when you make a switch in business, you have to let something go so you can get something new.”