Indiana Town Challenges Locals to Pitch Next Restaurant

A current-day snapshot of the building in downtown Evansville where a restaurant will open by next September. 
A current-day snapshot of the building in downtown Evansville where a restaurant will open by next September.  Image Used with Permission

A corner drugstore built in 1952 on Main Street in a city in Indiana is getting a revamp as a shiny new restaurant. The space comes with a town donation of $250,000 for the restaurateur to get his eatery off the ground—but not before townspeople vie for which restaurant gets to move in there, culminating with a public cook-off. 

Last week, leaders of Evansville, Indiana, which has a population of about 120,000 and is the third largest city in the state, announced an economic development contest targeting successful restaurateurs as well as entrepreneurs. This restaurant challenge, dubbed Evansville's Main Course Restaurant Challenge and launched by the Southwest Indiana Chamber, will allow applicants of all experiences to send in entries through Oct. 15, detailing their concept for a new restaurant.

The restaurant will set up shop on the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue, and per contest guidelines, must open by Sept. 1, 2015.

The winner of the challenge will receive $250,000 as an initial investment into the space. The money comes from local business donations, the city of Evansville, and the state of Indiana's Office of Community and Rural Affairs. 

"It's important to the committee and it's important to the Chamber here that this restaurant is well thought out, well funded, and has everything lined up to be successful," says Joshua Armstrong, downtown alliance director for the Southwest Indiana Chamber. "We picture this [$250,000] as being the starting point."

Armstrong estimates the total restaurant investment will be upwards of $700,000, and like any other restaurant, it'll be up to the winner to seek investors, use personal funds, or consider a bank loan to finance the rest of the downtown eatery.

After the Oct. 15 cutoff, Armstrong says the committee will select a handful of finalists, about three to five. Finalists will have a meet and greet with the community, pitch their concepts in person to the committee, and participate in a public cook-off, the final stage. Immediately following the cook off, the Chamber will announce who wins the challenge and help the winner move forward on the space.

Of the prize package, a portion is dedicated specifically for facade restoration. Armstrong says the space was built in 1952 as a drugstore, but its longest life was as a jewelry store for about 20 years. Most recently, it was used as campaign headquarters for President Obama's campaign in 2008, and since then it has sat vacant.

In the week since the contest was announced, Armstrong has received dozens of phone calls and emails from interested participants. Two groups toured the building last week, and several more are in line for this week. In fact, Armstrong says he's already received one completed application. "Somebody was just very, very excited to let us know what they'd like to do," he says.

By Sonya Chudgar


Truly taking advantage of the architectural splendor of the building will be a challenge. Is the "bunker on stilts" architectural school a big thing in Indiana?

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