Dining scene in downtown Elkhart changing in big and small ways

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Sarah Welliver/Flavor 574

As the snow fell last week, how one eats in downtown Elkhart changed, too.

A new restaurant opened. A bakery and catering business announced a change of course. Two other spots nearby have changed, too.

The big news is the opening of Artisan at 505 S. Main St. The former Flytrap’s served many a good meal in that spot, and with Artisan’s debut, fine dining returns and emerges in a new way.

Mini Delights Bake Shoppe is making a big change at 217 S. Main St., Elkhart. It won’t make cupcakes for walk-in customers anymore, instead focusing on large orders and catering, according to a story from J.C. Lee.

Hardy’s Bar is back at 610 S. Main St. after a stint as Olive Or Twist. Charles “Dude” Hardy owned the place from 1994 until his death in 2005. On Nov. 6, his brother Jan Hardy reopened the renovated bar, according to a story from Sarah Welliver.

Krāv will be the name of what was Cubby Bear Pizza, 526 S. Main St. The new focus will be as a nightclub — not a restaurant. (Editor’s note: Ranee Robinson of Krāv has indicated it’s not a nightclub. In an email since this was published she wrote, “We cater to a family dining room and our entertainment will be for families and an occasional 21+ crowd which will be advertised as an event.”)

You can look at this a number of ways in terms of what it means for downtown Elkhart.

If your glass is half empty, the changes aren’t necessarily good ones.

It got more difficult to get a cupcake. What may be Elkhart County’s most expensive restaurant won’t have hundreds of customers every night. That’s not the intent.

An old bar is renovated and has a new look, but it isn’t a player on the culinary front. Cubby Bear didn’t work well enough for the owners to stick with it, and a new concept is emerging.

Those could be viewed as negatives. Maybe I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I’d rather look at it a bit differently.

Ashley Stone and her mother, Kelly Bowdoin, started a bakery in downtown Elkhart and did a bit of catering. When Bowdoin retired, Stone took over the business.

I don’t know why walk-in business declined. Is the cupcake fad declining? Were prices a factor? Did the cupcakes change?

I don’t know. I haven’t had the cupcakes as often in the last year for no good reason other than I just didn’t eat as many cupcakes.

I’m not sure Stone knows the answers to those questions either, but it’s her business and she’s adjusting based on what she sees. Sometimes things just change. She and her mother made great cupcakes when they opened. They were the people’s choice winners of Cupcake Quest, my search for the county’s best cupcake.

When 85 percent of your business is large orders, is it wrong to focus on that? I doubt it. It sounds smart.

Plenty has already been written and said about Artisan opening, even before the first meal was served.

As food and drinks hit the tables and customers taste and experience it for themselves, more will be said and written.

A 50-seat restaurant won’t change the face of downtown Elkhart, but it represents a significant investment.

Kurt Janowsky and his investors bet on downtown Elkhart to be a place people from here and other nearby cities and towns will visit.

Even a watering hole like Hardy’s and a club like Krāv, if run well, can make a difference downtown.

One of the biggest challenges downtown Elkhart has had in recent years is getting people to come other than during business hours.

The Lerner Theatre is a gorgeous jewel that is drawing crowds downtown. The banquet facility there has been good for downtown, too. People need a variety of reasons to come downtown. They need fun places for eating, drinking and shopping after they’re done working. Those who don’t work downtown should want to visit on nights and weekends.

Even if you never visit Artisan, it’s likely to make downtown a better place to spend time. Meanwhile, places such as 523 Tap & Grill, Iechyd Da and The Vine offer other good options on nights and weekends. During the day, there are a number of other spots including Old Style Deli, The Daily Grind and recent addition Primo Italian Eatery at Second and Harrison streets.

The notion that an additional restaurant downtown may hurt others has mostly been debunked. It’s possible to hurt another place by going in nearby and offering something similar, but if businesses complement each other, they can all help each other.

Independent downtown restaurants and bars aren’t competing with each other as much as the chains and places that line the highways of any number of American towns.

I’d love to see the former Casey’s be revived as a restaurant. I’d love Mod Mex to move downtown. I wish that Lucchese’s still had a regular downtown presence.

It’s easy to wish. It’s tougher to run and sustain a place.

The challenge is often to get the word out and to continue doing so as hours or offerings are tweaked. The challenge is always to give customers a good experience, whether that’s with a slice of pizza or an expensive steak.

Time will tell what will happen to Krāv, Hardy’s, Mini Delights, Artisan and the other downtown eateries and bars. Some will survive longer than others. But the landscape changed in recent weeks and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it probably made downtown Elkhart an even more vibrant place to visit.

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