VALPARAISO | The city's downtown fine dining establishments agree the special historic district liquor licenses have helped, but how much they have contributed to their individual success is an unknown.
Carlos Rivero's Don Quijote restaurant was successful long before the licenses were created by the state Legislature in 2005, but he was one of the first to apply for and receive one of the 10 given the city.
"It's a great thing for downtown Valparaiso, but I've been in business for 28 years, so I don't know what it did for me," Rivero said. "I did embrace the liquor licenses and the downtown dining association. Even when we are going through a not-so-good economy, we are doing better.
"The restaurants have started bringing people from other communities downtown, which has been a good thing for Valparaiso. I expect to see three or four more high end restaurants, and I have nothing against that. Having a downtown where things are happening is a good thing."
The one problem is the lack of parking, especially when the city is holding special events in the evenings, but Rivero said the downtown dining group, which includes all those with the special licenses, is working on that with the city.
The first of the licenses went to Nicole Bissonnette, owner and chef at Bistro 157, who said, "It's been a nice addition that we are able to offer the customers, but it's hard to say if it helped the business."
"At the time I got it, I was just starting out and establishing myself as a chef," Bissonnette said. "The licenses are great for the city, and the dining group has been a great thing. We discuss things we are doing together, and we have a camaraderie of peers sharing strategies together."
The last two, awarded to Casa Del Mar, a Mexican restaurant going into the old Porter County Jail, and Main and Lincoln, described by owner George Djurovic as having "dishes that celebrate all the ethnicities" of America, have yet to open.
Djurovic said the low price - $6,000 - for the license as compared to ones that can cost 10 to 30 times that much was an important consideration from a financial standpoint but not the main reason he wanted to open his restaurant in downtown Valparaiso.
"It was not so much the license as being a part of what is happening in Valparaiso," he said. "I look at the license as a gift. It gave us a chance to take the project to the next level, and played a huge role in that way."