When a successful business changes hands, dedicated customers usually have an immediate, instinctive response – don’t change anything.
“I’ve been here pretty much every day since we knew we were going to sign the deal and talked to hundreds of customers,” said Steve Hunter, vice president of operations at Quality Dining. “And (they say) don’t change anything. And I said well, how about if we don’t change the food and we keep a great team, but there are a few things we can do to freshen it up a bit Restaurant .”
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Lutz opened Uptown Kitchen in 2007 with a focus on high-quality food and a comfortable, yet stylish, avant-garde atmosphere. So in deciding to sell the restaurant in Heritage Square 15 years later, it was important to him to find someone who wasn’t going to change the concept and stay committed to serving fresh food.
“I feel a loyalty to our community and our team members, and we have a lot of wonderful regular guests who expect a certain level of quality food and service,” Lutz told The Tribune in early March. “And I wanted to make sure that we handed over the business to people who understood that and had every intention of trying to maintain that level of quality.”
Lutz found this new owner with Quality Dining, a Mishawaka-based restaurant management company that owns Papa Vino’s Italian cuisine and multiple Burger King locations spanning three states.
“The opportunity was presented to us and we were impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of the Uptown Kitchen family and team,” said Dan Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of the company, in an e-mail statement. “We are kindred spirits because we like to think about our other restaurant concepts in the same way. We are a family business that not only tries to run a successful business, but also engage in our community. Uptown and its culture are right in our sweet spot.
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The new operators didn’t disclose the purchase price, but said that two weeks into the rather seamless ownership transition, all that’s really changed so far are new physical menus, chair replacements worn and a familiar face with former Papa Vino manager Nick Freitag, who now works as a general. Responsible for breakfast and lunch venue.
Although there are no plans to change the food menu, other changes will eventually be adopted. The operators plan to bring back the restaurant’s opening hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also expand restaurant operations. Hunter said they also plan to use the space at 7225 Heritage Square for more private dining experiences, which will provide more seamless operations between Uptown and other Quality Dining-owned restaurants. This means that if you want to host a private event in Uptown but want Papa Vino’s food, this may be an option.
“It’s not that far, but I think people don’t want to drive downtown late at night if people are coming from Granger or that area, so we can have private events here,” said Hunter. “We’ve already booked a few wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners here.”
Some aesthetic changes could also be on the cards, but for now operators say they want to focus on breakfast and lunch operations, which Hunter says is a new wheelhouse at which they are used to.
“We kinda wait and see and learn,” Hunter said. “The breakfast/lunch side was a bit different for us, but I think once we figure that out we can make some decisions.”
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But being under the umbrella of a larger organization, some fear the restaurant will become more corporate and streamlined. Hunter finds it frustrating to hear that people don’t understand that Quality Dining is a local business and points out that he lives just up the road from Uptown Kitchen and remembers hiking with his kids in a time wagon for Sunday brunch on the outdoor terrace.
For him, Uptown operations will remain as local as possible.
“All that money stays in the community and we’re able to do things in the community because that’s where it comes from,” he said. …”You admire what (Lutz) has built, but we bring a different skill set. We bring the same passion for customers and team members, but a different skill set and support team different. And all of our support is just down the street. Were excited.”
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.