The old bar at 104 S. Main St., Middlebury, is nearly ready for its new life.
Austin Slabach said 41 Degrees North will open in about a month. His new place has passed several inspections and has a couple to go after more than a year of renovation.
The 2006 Northridge High School graduate worked with a chef in Colorado who moved to a town about the size of Middlebury and expanded the culinary scene there.
When Slabach was home for the Middlebury Summer Festival in 2013, he saw that the Winner’s Circle bar was for sale.
He moved back Jan. 1, 2014. Two nights later, he was tearing horsehair plaster off an old mural inside and finding the first gem of his new business.
The mural, painted in 1880, shows a twine-binding W.A. Wood harvester. The sign was an advertisement for Elliott & Foster, a Middlebury “agricultural implements” dealer. The mural was covered by a two-story building constructed in 1881 that Slabach and his family now own.
Slabach, 27, took over a building that has been a bar for decades, but he’s hoping to do something that Middlebury hasn’t seen before.
He’ll offer craft brews and dishes made with as many local ingredients as possible. That’s part of the point of naming the business for Middlebury’s latitude. “We grow a lot of produce around here,” he said. “We want to use fresh, local ingredients whenever we can.”
Salad greens will come from a nearby Michigan grower. He’s hoping to use local sources for fish, chicken and beef. “I’ve been working on a fish taco recipe for a long time,” he said.
Old Hoosier Meats, a historic Middlebury butcher shop now operated by Randy Grewe, will provide the prime rib and brats that will be featured at the restaurant.
41 Degrees North will have a three-way liquor license, but Slabach wants to focus on craft brews, including some that will be brewed next door. Chris Higgins is a homebrewer who’s planning to open Wedgewood Brewing Co. this spring or summer. Wedgewood will have just a tasting room, so 41 Degrees North will offer its beers on some of the 14 taps there.
Families will be able to sit along the north wall, and a bar on the south side of the room faces a historic mirrored piece of furniture that resided across the street at Village Inn until 1979.
Slabach’s mother, Paula, designed the room. His father, Marc, helped with the gutting and renovation work, as did others.
The interior is bright and clean. It’ll seat about 40 to 45 in the family area and 30 to 35 in the bar.
“I just want a nice, laid-back place people can go,” Slabach said.
He expects to see a few tourists in the summer since Shipshewana is a dry town, but he’s really opening it to offer his own community a gathering spot. “We want to be a quality friendly place where you know your server and feel respected,” he said. “People just need another place,” he said.
Slabach said he will oversee the kitchen and work with Anna Campanello of Elkhart. They’re still working on the menu. Laura Pauwels, Slabach’s girlfriend, will be the head bartender.
When it opens in February or March, he’s planning on hours being 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. He’s hoping to open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays to offer brunch and is mulling whether to open Mondays.
Slabach said he’s already felt the love for what he’s doing. “I love Middlebury,” he said. “Everybody is so supportive.”