Artisan Restaurant brings ‘something special’ to Elkhart
By CJ Woodring
»“Live. Work. Play.” That’s the slogan of SoMa (Supporting our Main assets), a community-driven initiative for renewal and revitalization of Elkhart’s downtown South Main Street area that enables entrepreneurs and businesses to invest in the historic downtown.
Make that “Live. Work. Play. Eat,” if you throw
in the work of Kurt Janowsky, one such entrepreneur and a restaurateur whose name is synonymous
with excellent cuisine throughout St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.
A South Bend native and resident, Janowsky owns or partners in a host of regional restaurants.
The 52-year-old’s most recent addition to the Navarre Hospitality Group (navarrehospitalitygroup.com) and to the north-central Indiana culinary scene is Artisan Restaurant, which opened in January 2015 in the heart of Elkhart’s Arts & Entertainment District.
Located in a historic building — Janowsky is an ardent supporter of adaptive reuse — the contemporary restaurant offers upscale ambience and service. The venue has already garnered the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award for 2016, one of fewer than a half-dozen Indiana restaurants to do so.
Janowsky says it’s the restaurant he has long wanted to open. “We always wanted to go up a notch,” he explains. “My background was in fine dining at country clubs and resorts, and you always want to know if you have it in you to do the best, to know if you could pull it out.
“We wanted to open something special and not offered elsewhere — small, intimate, fine dining — that would bring people in from out of town,” he adds. “I think we did that.”
And why was Elkhart the selected site? “Because the city has been really good to our company over the years,” he says. “So it’s kind of a payback, a ‘thanks for supporting us,’ to open the restaurant here.
“Plus, people from Elkhart have always gone to South Bend. It’s been pretty much a one-way street. So we thought if it was nice enough, people in South Bend would bless us with their patronage, and it would also bring people in from other towns.”
Janowsky says he often hears people are surprised that the region, crippled when the RV industry collapsed in 2008, is supporting an upscale level of dining, despite the fact manufacturing is on the upswing.
“But why wouldn’t it support us?” he asks. “There are about 200,000 residents in Elkhart County, and including nearby markets, a million people within a half-hour of us.”
“I just direct traffic”
To say he has a lot on his plate would be an understatement: With a combined staff of 250, including his two sons and daughter, Janowsky sets the standard for what appears on thousands of guests’ plates. And with more than 30 years in the industry, he has found his calling.
Janowsky became executive chef at Knollwood Country Club, Granger, at the age of 18. At 20 he purchased the Loft Restaurant, a former South Bend venue. He also served as co-owner of the Ice House in Mishawaka; the Emporium, South Bend; Baxter’s Food and Spirits, Elkhart; and the Matterhorn.
Yet the South Bend native nearly attended MIT to become an engineer.
“I’m a math guy. I was a good student and had options coming out of high school,” he says. “But I’d been a cook throughout high school, and the bug had bitten me by then. That’s what I wanted to do.
“Now I’m watching my younger son, a high school senior, doing the same thing: He’s also a good student, but says he wants to be a chef.”
The industry veteran currently owns Café Navarre and The Exchange Whiskey Bar in South Bend, while also operating with partners at O’Rourke’s Public House, South Bend and Rocky River Tap and Table, Granger. They are among the most popular dining destinations in the region, each offering a unique and distinct experience.
Janowsky also owns the Elkhart-based Matterhorn Conference Center/Banquet & Catering, the region’s premier catering service, and provides food services for the Crystal Ballroom in Elkhart’s historic Lerner Theatre, just a block from the Artisan.
In 2012 he received the Lewis S. Armstrong Award from Indiana University South Bend’s Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics. The award is presented annually for leadership, distinguished achievement and contributions to the Michiana area’s business and quality of life.
Janowsky enjoys the work, he says, although it involves many hours and making many sacrifices. “It’s what we do, and we’ve been able to assemble a really good team,” he says. “You don’t do all this by yourself. I have great people who do the heavy lifting for me now. I just kind of direct traffic.”
Though the restaurant isn’t for everyone, he says, “we’re trying to keep the price point modest. We’re also going to try to keep it approachable. We don’t want anyone too intimidated to go in. Diners don’t need a jacket and tie, so it’s comfortable, and we want people to just enjoy the food and ambience and have fun. Fun is what makes a memorable dining experience.”
Fresh, seasonal, locally sourced food
A great portion of that dining experience is, of course, the restaurant’s ever-changing menu, a presentation of chef Matt Jay.
An Elkhart native and honors graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, Jay worked at renowned restaurants that include the MK in Chicago (mkchicago.com) and the Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan (grandhotel.com), before returning to his hometown.
Menus focus on small portions and multiple courses featuring locally sourced ingredients and specialty products. Guests may order a la carte or select from seven-course tasting menus.
Jay, 37, says it’s the kind of food he’s always wanted to serve. “With 40 to 50 customers an evening, rather than 300, it allows me more time to focus on the food, making sure techniques are correct, and to perfect it so guests have the best experience they could possibly have.”
Menu selections throughout the year include seafood and game, as well as prime beef and free-range poultry raised in Indiana. “They’re organic, no antibiotics or hormones,” Jay says. “We’re really serious about that.”
The Artisan also serves Rolling Meadows pork belly, Kruse Farm baby spinach, Strauss Farms rack of lamb and Cook’s Bison short ribs, a guest favorite that Jay says is “really simple and like the best pot roast you’ll ever have.”
As for spring tastings, he says halibut and spring lamb will definitely be on the menu, along with a bison dish and morels.
“We’ll transition into cooking lighter dishes … more vegetable forward … more of the local spring greens such as ramps (wild leeks) and fiddlehead ferns, and using a lot of pesto oils with them.”
A wine list offers 300 selections and, Janowsky says, stocks about 10,000 bottles. Although Indiana wineries aren’t currently represented, he says the restaurant will soon offer selections from South Bend’s winery.
Janowsky suggests prospective guests from the metro Indianapolis region make it a weekend getaway, stopping along the way in Roanoke (Huntington County) to dine at Joseph Decuis (josephdecuis.com), also a AAA Four Star Award restaurant. He notes that improvements have been made to U.S. 31, expediting travel time to the Elkhart region.
“When there’s something in your own state, you hope people will support it,” he says. “Our region’s blessed with a myriad of travel destination options and a wonderful selection of dining places from casual to fine dining.
“Three of the state’s five 2015 AAA Four Star restaurants are in north-central Indiana, plus a dozen microbreweries and great chef-driven restaurants with outstanding food. So it’s really a vibrant food scene. Better than people think, and you don’t have to leave the state.”
Artisan Restaurant is located at 505 S. Main St., Elkhart. Call (574) 355-3355 for reservations, or log onto Yelp on the restaurant’s website (artisanelkhart.com). The bar opens at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; dining room opens at 5 p.m. Private dining is available for eight to 100 guests.