VALPARAISO | The iconic region restaurant Strongbow Inn served up its signature turkey dinners for 75 years.
But times change, and so do tastes.
Strongbow closed the dining room in March, and now the property has been purchased by an acclaimed farm-to-fork restaurant that has won accolades from celebrity chef G. Gavin.
Valley Kitchen & Bar, which has served gourmet food with fresh, local ingredients in downtown Valparaiso since 2011, is buying the former Strongbow property at 2405 U.S. 30 for an undisclosed sum. Owners Cory and Blair Muro, who also own the popular Tomato Bar pizzerias in Schererville and Valparaiso, plan to move Valley Kitchen & Bar into the vacated restaurant space this fall.
The restaurant, which features menu items like truffle fries, pork belly lettuce wraps and Amish chicken breasts, has outgrown its current space and was in the market for a larger building. Valley had to stop serving lunch since it no longer had enough kitchen space to store ingredients for both lunch and dinner. The Strongbow property will double its seating capacity to about 150 from 74.
"We have always struggled with the size of our kitchen and have been limited to what is a dinner-only establishment," Cory Muro said. "The space became available, and we saw an opportunity to expand our offerings. Hopefully, this will enable growth within our team, develop more farming partners and expand our community outreach."
Valley Kitchen & Bar likely would become the largest farm-to-table restaurant in all of Indiana, since it would be able to seat up to 500 people for banquets and special events. The size of the building will allow the restaurant to start pickling its produce for use throughout the year and make its own vinegars that would be used in viniagrette salad dressings.
The restaurant will need to hire about 30 more employees when it first opens, and potentially a lot more over time, Cory Muro said.
"Downtown has definitely been great and still plan to spend my time there," he said. "But the larger kitchen will definitely free us up to do more creative things, and let us play a bigger role in the community."
Luke Oil Co. had purchased Strongbow Inn from Russ and Nancy Adams in 2013, but gained no traction on sales in the dining room or bakery after investing $700,000 into a new craft beer bar and remodeled banquet rooms. CEO Tom Collins said the company's lack of experience in restaurant management was a detriment in the highly competitive Valparaiso market.
The entire building will be stripped of the Strongbow brand and become Valley Kitchen & Bar, but Strongbow is not dead. Strongbow co-owner Ryan Richardson said the future is uncertain, but the owners hope to revive the brand and its famous turkey offerings.
"Strongbow is a dynamic brand with a unique offering and great brand equity," Richardson said. "We hope to find a way to bring the offering back at a different property or a different market in the near future."
Various groups had been interested in Strongbow's prominent location near the intersection of U.S. 30 and Ind. 49. A large restaurant chain from Chicago was poised to take the space when the Muros expressed interest.
"We are excited that the property will be occupied by a local restaurant with a strong track record," Collins said. "Valley does an excellent job with their farm-to-table concept and has a very loyal customer base. We feel that their brand and offering is more aligned with this property then another chain restaurant."
Valley will start remodeling the space this summer, and Strongbow will continue to operate the events and banquet facility through the end of October, honoring all previously booked weddings and events. Valley will take over the banquet facility and events as well as the restaurant.
"This move will allow Valley to expand their offering and their growing customer base," Collins said. "Events are a natural extension of their business model."
In the long term, the Muros are looking to continue to expand their Tomato Bar chain and Valley. As a result of Valley's growth, they have promoted Executive Chef Jason Rudy to part owner.
They said they would offer more details about their plans for the Strongbow property once the sale is final and construction begins.