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Lawyers manage restaurants, legal work in Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis

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Usually being served by a lawyer is a bad thing. That is, unless the lawyer is offering a cool martini or a warm plate of shrimp and grits.

Three Indiana attorneys have been or will soon be opening bars and restaurants around the state to serve patrons when they’re not working with clients. All three have different reasons for doing it, yet all three have said their legal experience has been helpful.

Firefly Southern Grill

R. Scott Wylie doesn’t have a typical day. Instead, he’s often seen around Evansville greeting patrons and bussing tables in the Firefly Southern Grill at 6636 Logan Drive, which he owns and operates with his business partner, Joshua Armstrong; working in the office of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwest Indiana; or preparing and teaching a course at the University of Southern Indiana.

Wylie said he had hoped to open a restaurant like Firefly when he moved back home to Indiana, partly because of time he spent at lawyer hangouts in the Los Angeles area.
 

ulmer club soda
wylie firefly Solo practitioner Doug Ulmer, top, is chief operating officer of Club Soda in Fort Wayne. Attorney R. Scott Wylie is co-owner of Firefly Southern Grill in Evansville, which has been recognized by Wine Spectator. (Photos submitted)

He and Armstrong knew they wanted to have cuisine that people in Evansville would be comfortable with, but they also wanted patrons to have a fine dining experience in a casual, comfortable setting.

“That way, someone could get a burger on the way home from work, while sitting a table over from someone enjoying a $200 bottle of wine,” and neither would feel out of place, he said.

With a goal of having authentic Southern cooking – not just fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans – he and Armstrong traveled around the south, stopping at restaurants along the way.

On one trip, Wylie said they ate at least one meal in Louisville, Henderson, and Lexington, Ky.; Asheville, N.C.; Charleston and Hilton Head, S.C.; Savannah and Macon, Ga.; and Chattanooga and Nashville, Tenn.

At each stop, they took notes about what they wanted to serve at Firefly. As a result, the menu – available at www.fireflysoutherngrill.com – includes comfort food that is familiar to Hoosiers. It also features food they tried on the road: gumbo, okra, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, and catfish.

On a separate trip, they participated in a bus tour in Nashville, Tenn., with Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote the “Road Food” column for Gourmet magazine and host the National Public Radio program, “The Splendid Table.” The Sterns went over Firefly’s menu and made suggestions. Wylie said that trip also inspired a few new menu items.

Wylie said he enjoys his legal work and teaching, but he is also happy to see so many members of the legal community support his restaurant.

“If a bomb went off on a busy night, it would probably take out a third of the bar association,” he joked.

The restaurant also donates time and food to charities in the area, which has also helped spread the word about the restaurant.

Club Soda

When Fort Wayne solo attorney Doug Ulmer was first approached by friends in 1999 with the idea to open Club Soda, a jazz venue, steak restaurant, and cigar and martini bar at the old Indiana Textile Building, 235 E. Superior St., “I quickly said I had no interest in investing in a restaurant, thank you very much,” he said.

But because they were his friends, he agreed to help with legal work for the business.

In April 2002, things went sour. The investors and Ulmer learned about bounced paychecks, unpaid vendors, ignored payroll taxes, and other issues that restaurant owners dread.

“It became a nightmare very quickly,” he said. “We were able to rescue the restaurant by forming a new corporation. We transferred the assets from the old corporation to the new corporation, and worked out an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service and creditors of the old corporation. 2003, 2004, and 2005 were very dicey years. But fortunately we hung on, and Club Soda is thriving right now.”

When things were rough, Ulmer said he was waiting tables and helping as a server, which is also what he did while was in college and law school. He added that while he was working in the restaurant, wearing the same outfit as the other employees, those who saw him earlier in the day in his suit and tie didn’t recognize or acknowledge him.

When the new corporation was formed, Ulmer became the restaurant’s chief operating officer. In that role, he creates the agenda for meetings, follows up on questions the partners have, and periodically works with vendors, “including an episode a couple years ago where we discovered the walleye we were selling on the menu was really a distant cousin of walleye. That required some legal intervention.”

Club Soda offers a fine dining menu – available online at www.clubsodafortwayne.com – that includes cleverly named cocktails, duck, filet mignon, and (real) walleye. Ulmer said Club Soda, which offers continuous live jazz and blues from local and touring regional and national acts, remains a unique destination in Fort Wayne.

Ball & Biscuit

Unlike Wylie and Ulmer, Indianapolis attorney Trevor Belden has yet to have guests experience his bar – it will open this summer.

The Baker & Daniels partner recently moved to a condo in the same building as the Ball & Biscuit’s future home – 333 Massachusetts Ave. – and has been watching the construction progress since March.
 

trevor belden Belden

Belden, who had no prior restaurant experience, originally wanted to open a downtown venue as part of his involvement as co-founder of Indy Hub, a social and professional networking organization. After speaking with an old friend – the restaurant’s co-owner and general manager Zach Wilks – the two decided to start what will be another choice in the city’s trendy downtown neighborhood.

When asked what would distinguish this bar from almost a dozen others within walking distance, Belden said there will be no TVs, it will be non-smoking, they will serve craft beers and boutique wines, and it will have more of a lounge feel than other places. It will also have a limited menu in terms of food, with only seven or eight small plates.

As far as managing the restaurant and his legal work for a large Indianapolis firm, Belden said he spends as much time with it as some people might spend with a hobby, while Wilks is paid to manage the day-to-day issues of the restaurant.

While it’s too early to tell, Belden is optimistic about the bar he named after a microphone the BBC used in the 1930s.

He added the location was a key factor in his decision to open a bar, and that he had received a lot of cautious advice.

While Ulmer and Wylie said their legal experience has helped, they wouldn’t recommend other attorneys open a restaurant, at least not without some serious thought.

“I really enjoy working with the staff and the servers, the people in the kitchen,” Ulmer said. “It reminds me of coming up through restaurants. It’s also like having a client in terms of making sure the interests of the partners and restaurant are well served, and it’s a business, which is not unlike operating a law practice. There are bills to pay and financial reports to be aware of and budgeting. So it’s a combination of having a hobby, having a client, and having a business.”•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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