ILNews

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

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

ADVERTISEMENT