Mexican Flair on the Courthouse Square

Texy Mexy

By Lynn Spencer
Photos by Stan Gurka

They say love is at the root of many things we do in life. For Sophie Abell, that couldn’t be truer. The native Texan moved to Indiana 13 years ago to get married. Among the items packed away in her moving boxes was a salsa recipe she’s had for more than 30 years.

“It was given to me by a woman from Mexico and I’ve tweaked it and added to it over the years. I had a home based business and sold the salsa mainly to friends and families,” Abell said. “It was something I could do when the kids were growing up. It was very successful there, but I’ve had huge success with the salsa here.”

That success started at area farmer’s markets.

Started with Salsa

“I came here and discovered farmer’s markets and knew I’d love to be a vendor. It’s a place where everyone is passionate about their product,” Abell said. “No one gets up in morning and say ‘Oh, I have to go to the farmer’s market.’ Everyone loves it and loves the atmosphere.”

She set up shop at the Westfield Farmer’s Market, named her business Texy Mexy, and started selling her salsa – appropriately named Sophie’s Salsa. 

“Day one started in Westfield and we were sampling the salsa and it was just flying out. My husband (Gerry) and I looked at each other and knew we were on to something. We transitioned to the Noblesville farmer’s market, evolved to two tents with salsa and tamales and then readymade food and had lines and were running out of food,” she said. “We entertained starting a food truck for a little bit but decided it just wasn’t a direction we thought business wise would be a good decision.”

So, after nine years at the farmer’s market, and customers asking when they’d open up a restaurant, the couple decided to take the plunge. They lucked into a location on the square in downtown Noblesville and, in October 2018, opened their doors at 818 Logan St.

The design prominently features the original brick walls, which had been covered in plaster for 50 years.

“With the (brick) walls we don’t have a lot of art because they are the art of the space and I wanted to highlight that,” Abell said. “We have an open concept kitchen so when you come in you can see us cooking, and a small bar. It’s not a typical Mexican restaurant design – it has more of a modern feel in here.”

Squash Tacos

The Texy Mexy menu has evolved, Abell said, because she doesn’t have the limitations of the farmer’s market. Customer favorites – besides her award winning salsa (2006 at the Noblesville Farmer’s Market and 2018 at the Salsa for Salsa competition at Federal Hills Commons) – include hand crafted tacos.

“We are doing a squash taco that everyone is loving – it’s gone over really well,” she said. “We roast everything in house, everything is prepped fresh daily so when you come in you get fresh product.”

Then, there are the tamales, which Sophie’s mom taught her to make when she was 13.

“Tamale making is a skill because it’s not easy to do but I’ve taken it on and continued her legacy,” Abell said. “The tamales you get here are a true Texas tamale, which can be different depending on the region of the country they’re made.”

Taco vs Tech

Customer service is extremely important to Abell. To that end, she started Taco vs. Technology nights on Wednesdays as a way to encourage families to put away their devices and spend the evening talking.

“We take a container to the table and everyone puts their devices in it and there are cards to use as conversation starters. The goal is no one picks up their devices during the entire meal and at the end of the night we give free ice cream,” Abell said. “The kids love it and are loving the conversation - which is really more of the goal instead of being on a device to keep them entertained.”

Despite the steady flow of customers, Abell continues to be surprised at Texy Mexy’s success.

“It’s absolutely humbling and surreal that people actually come in and eat my food and keep coming back,” she said. “You just don’t take it for granted.”

“Pick Your Own” farm Expands into Wine

Spencer Farms Winery

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

Mark Spencer has always enjoyed relaxing with a glass of wine with friends and family.

So when the 35-year-old started to think of ways to diversify the family business - Spencer Farm - his thoughts turned to a winery.

“I explored apples but that didn’t light a fire in me. I’d visited a buddy who lived in the southern growing region in California and did a bunch of winery tours and enjoyed that,” Spencer said. “With more and more people moving into this area who are middle and upper income, I thought it might be something they’d be looking for and would be a good fit.”

The first hurdle - his parents, Kyle and Lori Spencer.

“Neither of my parents really drink much so it took a little bit of convincing as far getting them to understand what a winery is - that it’s not a rowdy bar,” Spencer said.

Trial and Error

The next hurdle - researching what types of grapes would grow well in Indiana’s climate. Most wine grapes grown in the state are hybrids developed to withstand Hoosier winters. Spencer also reached out to Bruce Bordelon, a Purdue University Horticulture professor and part of the University’s grape team.

“I bugged him a lot on what to do and how to get started,” Spencer said. “He’s been a tremendous resource for me.”

Spencer started with table grapes in 2016 because they fit the Spencer Farm “pick your own” concept.

“I called it my training wheels. They did quite well and are still out there today. That’s how I learned to grow grapes,” he said. “Wine grapes are a little bit tougher to grow - at least some varieties - but essentially it’s the same blueprint. Once I’d succeeded with table grapes I convinced my parents to let me start with the wine grapes.”

When it came to creating his wines, Spencer said it was trial and error.

“I started out very small doing one gallon at a time and you follow what you think you’re supposed to do and then learn little tweaks here and there that make it more of a high quality wine,” he said. “I learned early to expose it less to air because it’s the enemy of wine. Now we’re operating on a much bigger scale and I’m learning more each time.”

Escape from the Suburbs

In November 2018 Spencer had the opportunity to buy the 1883 farmhouse next to the family farm with the idea of turning it into a tasting room.

“I was going for more of the relaxed farmhouse type feel that we have on the farm in general and wanted to incorporate the old farmhouse into that if possible versus putting up something new with less character,” Spencer said.

The farmhouse was taken down to the studs so the small rooms could be opened up, but Spencer tried to keep as much of the original home as he could, including the original hardwood floors and part of an original chimney. Dark wood tables and chairs dot the winery, a window seat invites customers to sit and sip, while the soft blue paint adds to the relaxed atmosphere.

I didn’t want it to be super modern and brand new looking - I wanted clean lines but still have that farmhouse feel such as the rough sawn cedar trim,” he said. “Some of the decor is old time Noblesville photographs and we have an original Spencer’s you pick sign and old grape vines mounted to the walls. So you have the wine aspect with the Ag aspect - sort of that easy going feel. The farm is like that - an escape from the suburbs and that’s what I was shooting for.”

Eight wines are currently available to taste, with glasses and bottles available for purchase. 

“Two that have been the overwhelming favorites are the Syrah for the red wine drinkers and the peach and honey for sweet wine drinkers,” Spencer said. “There’s also every step in between with the middle of the road the blueberry because it’s somewhat sweet but has a bit of tartness to it so sweet and dry drinkers like it. There really is something for every wine palate.”

Even though Spencer Farm Winery only has a few months under its belt, Spencer’s already looking to the future. The upper floor of the farmhouse will likely be renovated to add additional space and a party room for events, and a breezeway built between the main tasting room and the patio seating area. Live entertainment is also on tap down the road.

“I don’t want to overcomplicate what this is, however,” Spencer said. “I feel like some wineries try to branch out in too many different directions and I want to remain, at the core, a winery rather than offer everything under the sun.”

Italian Breakfast

Convivo expands concept with a new restaurant

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

It all started with a conversation over coffee.

“My business partner (Emilio Cento) and I were having a coffee across the street from Convivio Carmel and the space next to it was vacant. We were talking about what might go there,” said Andrea Melani, co-owner of Convivio. “From there it grew and we started wondering if it would be a good idea to open a breakfast place and use the same kitchen space as Convivio.”

Within a week of that conversation, Melani and Cento had a floor plan and a name; and five months later they signed the lease on the space for their new venture - Caffe Buondi. The breakfast and lunch spot opened early this year.

“Business has been very good for being a new place with no other ties or promotions besides letting our regulars at Convivio know we were opening,” Melani said. “People seem to be happy and the neighborhood is great. It’s definitely exceeded expectations.”

The opening did mean one change – Convivio now only serves dinner. Lunch business at the Italian eatery averaged about 60 people, according to Melani, but they are seeing three times that number at Caffe Buondi.

“It was a good call,” Melani said.


Caffe Buondi steers away from the traditional menu heavy on eggs and pancakes and focuses instead on items that are creative but still clearly breakfast oriented. You’ll find frittatas; buckwheat galettes (a savory crepe) folded with a sunny side egg and ham and Swiss cheese; potato waffles with a sunny side egg, sausage patty and cheese sauce; and a selection of toast such as fig with ricotta, smoked avocado and capers, scrambled egg and asparagus, or sweet roasted marshmallows and Nutella.

“When we make changes it’s typically because something wasn’t working, not because we are tired of something,” Melani said. “We added a new crepe dish that is savory and removed the toast board – things like that. And, we try to keep it seasonal.”

No matter the season, it always seems sunny at Caffe Buondi thanks in part to its bright, wide open interior.

“We wanted it to be a place that was bright and kind of energizing because it is the beginning of day so the idea of a garden wall and the restaurant is white and modern and bright,” Melani said. “I think people like the design a lot and have kind of a ‘Wow’ reaction when they walk in. There is a lot of space to give that feeling of openness.”

A Seat at the Bar

The long espresso bar is another “Wow” for customers, he said.

“A lot of people seem to enjoy that and most of our regulars come in and want to sit at the bar,” he said. “They are coming both places – it’s actually kind of funny. Some people we might see at breakfast, and then other days at dinner multiple times a week.”

Melani and Cento split their time between the restaurants.

“We do have a manager and chef per store but not enough because they each need two days off a week so my partner and I are filling in constantly except for one day a week when we are off,” Melani said. “We are just all over the place.”

As to what the future holds, a third Convivio could be on the menu, along with some other ventures.

“We are actively looking at doing something in Fishers but nothing makes us crazy as far as location but there are a couple of things coming up in the near future,” Melani said. “Mass Ave. is also something we are really interested in but I don’t think it would be a Convivio or Caffe Buondi - but possibly something completely new.”

Like Mother Like Daughter

SweeTies Gourmet Treats

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

A love for sweets and baking has proven to be the recipe for success for Tiffany Colvin, owner of SweeTies Gourmet Treats in Fishers.

“Baking has been a passion of mine and my mother used to bake cakes and cater weddings from home and had dreamed of opening a storefront so we decided to go for it,” Colvin said.

That passion led to opening a shop in Broad Ripple, walking distance from Broad Ripple High School, where Colvin graduated.

“The Broad Ripple location we are in now is our second Broad Ripple location,” she said. “We moved to that one to downsize and felt like the location was more visible. I would say that that was a great choice.”

Another great choice, opening the second SweeTies Gourmet Treats in Fishers in July 2018 at 8902 E. 96th St.

“I am a sweet eater and have always been so everywhere I go I'm looking for sweet options,” Colvin said. “I actually live two minutes away from the Fishers location and felt like there were too many families around missing out on a place to pick up sweets for after dinner.”

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Bringing the Outdoors In

Field Brewing

By Chris Bavender

Greg and Jackie Dikos only lived in Seattle for a year, but the town left a huge impression.

“It’s a great brewing town with neighborhoods that have a lot of different little elements and camaraderie. You could go from neighborhood to neighborhood and try a different brewery - the craft beer out there is amazing,” Jackie said. “And we always felt like we were having really great food with the beer - it’s just a whole different element we weren’t used to.”

Back in Indiana, the couple - he’s an orthopedic surgeon and longtime home brewer, and she’s a sports dietician with a passion for healthy eating - talked about creating something similar.

“Two to three years ago we started formulating a plan and moving forward with the process,” Jackie said.

That plan came to fruition in early October when Field Brewing opened at 303 E. Main St. in Westfield.

“I feel there are a lot of little pieces of Greg and I laced throughout the brewery. It’s the opposite of what many Midwest breweries are,” she said. “Ours is meant to be light and bright and we believe in bringing the outdoors in so there are windows all around. We try to be different but still approachable and the place you want to hang out.”

Because the building is new, Jackie said they wanted to avoid the “too fresh and spanking new” feel.

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The Pride of Puebla

Loren, Mari and family offer authentic Mexican cuisine

By Christine Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

It’s a family affair at Loren & Mari Mexican Grill in Carmel. From the front of the house to the bustling kitchen filled with the delicious scents of simmering dishes, you’ll find one of the nine Xochitlatoa siblings or their parents Lorenzo and Marina.

“We’ve all worked in restaurants and thought about doing this a few years ago,” said 25-year-old Antonio Xochitlatoa (pronounced So-chi-ckla-toe-ah). “Now everyone is older and we knew we didn’t want to continue to work for other restaurants but rather, do our own thing. We all had good ideas about the food we wanted to serve.”

Loren & Mari opened Aug. 8 in the Merchants Pointe Shopping Center, just west of Keystone Parkway, on 116th Street. The site caught the family’s attention because it’d sat empty for some time and posed a challenge.

“We wanted to commit to this place and see what happens,” said Socorro, one of Lorenzo and Marina’s two daughters. “So many people say the same thing – ‘I hope you can do well here because so many others haven’t. They tell us they were surprised to see we were open – that one day they’re driving by and it’s empty and the next day here we are.”

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Simple Sustenance

Courtney’s Kitchen offers meals like grandma may have made

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

Remember the friend’s house you loved hanging out at as a kid? You know the one – snacks waiting after school, lots of laughter, and an atmosphere that made you feel right at home. It was that feeling siblings Carrie and Cass Courtney were after when they opened Courtney’s Kitchen in Noblesville in 2010.

“Our family was always the kitchen friends and family would gather to eat,” Carrie said. “We have always loved home-cooking and my brother loves doing it.”

Not to mention the restaurant business is in their blood. Their maternal grandfather (Englert) owned several businesses in Indianapolis their Grandma Englert cooked for. Their paternal Grandma Courtney owned a restaurant named Marie’s Kitchen when their dad was growing up.

“So we all get it honest, and we have plenty of homemade recipes to honor,” Carrie said. “In fact, that’s why Cass named the restaurant Courtney’s Kitchen, in reference and honor to Grandma Courtney.”

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Where Its Always Summertime

Big Dog’s Smokehouse BBQ

By Chris Bavender

Walk into Big Dog’s Smokehouse BBQ in Cicero and it’s a pretty sure bet by the time you order and grab a table, Cheryl Faulkner will know more than just your name.

“My kids tell me, ‘Mom, you don’t know a stranger.’ I walk in the back as they’re getting the orders ready and they’re amazed I find out so much information from a three minute order – my family just laughs at me,” Faulkner, co-owner of Big Dog’s said. “I love to visit and share and encourage and hear about people’s lives. It feels like having lunch every day with new friends and I love the variety of each day.”

Football Theme

Cheryl and husband Chris opened Big Dog’s in 2011. Sons Cody, Christian and Conner, along with daughter Ciara, daughter-in-law Abbey and Cheryl’s mom, Joele, all help run the restaurant. Son Austin, who lives in South Carolina, provides creative ideas – such as the all you can eat special 4 – 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The restaurant’s name has its origin in football.

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The Pie Shop in the “Middle of Everywhere"

Lisa’s Pie Shop

By Chris Bavender 
Photos by Stan Gurka

When Lisa Sparks told her husband, Jim, she was going to quit her factory job and open a pie shop he was mad. So mad, he packed his bags and left for three months.

“He thought I’d lost my mind - everyone did,” the 56-year-old said.

It might have had something to do with the fact everyone knew Lisa didn’t like pie. In fact, she still doesn’t.

“I’m a cake eater and my first intention was to decorate birthday cakes. But, this might sound silly, I just kept hearing God tell me ‘pie,’” Lisa said. “I kept arguing saying ‘I don’t like pie.’ You know how you reason out something in your head? Why would he want me to do something I’d never done and don’t like?”

Lisa made three promises to her husband – she wouldn’t borrow money from him for the pie shop, she’d never get the couple in debt, and if a year went by and the business wasn’t paying for itself, she’d get a job.

That was 32 years ago.

“If I needed a new oven or something I didn’t go to the bank to get it – I waited until I had the money so everything in this shop is paid for,” Lisa said. “Even today when Cisco delivers I pay right then. That’s also why I only take checks or cash.”

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Tasty Mashup: New Orleans Sushi in Westfield

Chiba Indy

By Chris Bavender

It was love that brought Keith Dusko to Westfield, but it was the sense of community and the family friendly atmosphere that helped in the decision to call it home. That, and Chiba Indy, his Park Street sushi restaurant that opened in April. It’s Dusko’s second Chiba location – the first opened in 2011 in New Orleans.

“I knew that if I moved here it would be tough to go back and work for someone and I saw an opportunity here,” said the 46-year-old Dusko.

Dusko and wife, Nicole, met through the racing world. She came to Louisiana through her then work for Andretti Autosports (she currently works for LST Marketing). At the time, Dusko was racing Le Mans style open cockpit race cars.

“It was a business situation that turned into a dating situation,” he said. “She was transferred back to Zionsville and we were doing long distance and I proposed a year later.”

On date nights, the couple would Uber to Mass Avenue or Broad Ripple. By the time the cost of a babysitter was factored in on top of the night out, they were “racking up the fees.”

“After a couple of those nights I said there has to be something close to home and the question kept coming up ‘Where does everyone eat?”’ he said. “I felt there was an opportunity to improve the scene a bit. I went to Rail (another Westfield restaurant) and was impressed with what they were doing.”

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From Roaster to Cup

Local Coffee Roaster promises unique coffee experience

By Chris Bavender

For the last four years, Indie Coffee Roasters has primarily operated as an online company or worked with other companies and wholesale partners. But that’s about to change when the coffee company opens its first brick and mortar location in Carmel in mid-January 2018 at 220 E. Main St.

“It had always been a dream of ours to open a space for people to call home, but for the longest time it just wasn’t in the cards,” said Alec Tod, co-owner. “Then, after our partners prayed over the space after walking past it many times, they just had a good feeling when they saw the for sale sign, that this was the place for Indie Coffee Roasters.”

Emotional connection

The coffee company’s name and launch slogan - there’s a new dog in town - originated in 2012 when Tod and wife, Jenny, were looking for a name for their mini dachshund puppy that was a play on the word Indiana. That same philosophy was applied to the name of the company.

“We love Indiana and we’re an independent company, very grass roots. So the word Indie made sense as in a mix of Indiana and independent,” he said. “As we were thinking through the opening campaign we really wanted to showcase the idea that our brand (highlighted from our mascot Indie) was the new dog in town, joining the (Carmel) greyhound.”

Their current slogan is “Coffee Unleashed.”

Tod said the goal is to create a space where the coffee can be showcased “in the highest form.”

“There’s one open air room dedicated to roasting, therefore you’ll be able to experience the whole process. We believe after seeing the coffee roasted there’s a sense of emotional connection to the process.,” he said. “But we don’t stop there. Our entire coffee bar experience will be centered on sharing the whole process with the guest from talking through tasting notes to teaching guests the differences between brewing methods.”

At the beginning, roasting will take place one day a week and increase with demand. Indie Coffee Roasters will also offer public tasting and home brewing classes.

Diane McAndrews, co-owner along with her husband, Kevin, is the Dir. of Retail. He’s the Dir. of Operations. Although the Carmel area abounds with coffee shops, she believes Indie Coffee will give customers the opportunity to have the freshest possible coffee.

“Similar to the idea of ‘from farm to table’ we will be ‘from roaster to cup,’” McAndrews said. “Roasting fresh, quality, direct trade beans on site will allow the coffee to stand out.”

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Community Cuisine Meals from the Market

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka

Noblesville Main Street Meals from the MarketIf you’re searching for a unique dining experience look no further than the south alley located next to the Noblesville Visitors Center. For the second year, Noblesville Main Street served up Meals from the Market - a farm-to-table experience with local music and art - sponsored by Peterson Architecture and Community Health Network.

“Meals from the Market is a catered dinner for up to 50 guests activating the alley adjacent to our office space,” said Chris Owens, Main Street CEO. “The event uses a private chef and his team to source meat and produce from our Farmers Market vendors to be used at each event.  Additionally, guests have the opportunity to sample local craft beer and wine at each event.”

Featured Chef

The idea was born out of a desire to evolve a Thursday market held in previous years and create another point of connection with Main Street. This was the fifth consecutive year programming was held in the South Alley.

“We are part of a larger group seeking to activate alley space around Noblesville enhancing connections to our historic downtown,” Owens said. “These events are great opportunities for the community to learn more about all that our organization provides our community from programming to volunteer opportunities as well as our funding structure.”

The hope is to connect the community not only to Noblesville Main Street, but to each other. Meals from the Market was so popular in 2016, Owens said, that the decision was made to expand from four events to eight this year - starting in early June and running through the end of Sept.

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A Grape to Glass experience

By Chris Bavender

What do you call an electrical engineer and a veterinarian whose hobby produces so much wine they can’t drink it all? Winery owners of course!

“When we moved to Indiana eight years ago, we had the opportunity to seriously consider doing it sooner rather than later,” said Deb Miller, co-owner of Blackhawk Winery in Sheridan with her husband, John. “We discovered all the fun grapes you can grow out here and thought ‘We’ve always wanted to do it, so let’s do it.’”

The couple - he’s the electrical engineer and she’s the vet - started to develop the winery in 2011 and opened the tasting room in 2014. Ten of the 30 acres is planted with vines of 11 varietals. They plan to add two to three acres of vines every year for the next five years. Blackhawk specializes in wines made from American French hybrid grapes.

“Those grapes are able to grow successfully in the Indiana climate,” Miller said. “Cold is really tough on the vinifera and our growing season is too short for them to ripen appropriately.”

The resulting wines range from semi sweet fruit to dry red.

“We have some great dry whites - Vidal Blanc which is similar to a Sauvignon Blanc - and my favorite, our estate Cayuga White, which is similar to a Pinot Gris,” Miller said. “For the reds, I really enjoy our Marechal Foch, a lovely dry red that is very flexible and goes with just about everything, and our Norton, our robust ‘steak wine.’”

The winery’s semi sweet wines include the Catawba - similar to a Moscato - and a concord offering, the Little Brother Red. Both wines also come in a sparkling version.

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Fine Dining in Fishers

Peterson’s celebrates 18 years

Peterson's RestaurantWhen Joseph Peterson decided to open a restaurant in 1999 he had plenty of experience in the corporate world running the family business, Crown Technology, but zero experience in the world of fine dining beyond entertaining clients at high end restaurants over the years.

“I thought by providing the same type of products, service, pricing, etc., that we did at Crown, it would be successful,” Peterson said. “We wanted to be a ‘one of a kind’ destination place in the Indianapolis area.”

Peterson opted to open the eatery, aptly named Peterson’s, in Fishers - which was on the verge of expanding at the time.

“Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant was available and we visualized that great things could happen at this location,” he said.

His goals then and now remain the same - not only to provide the best steaks and seafood in the area, but offer “unbelievable service and ambiance.”

“I wanted customers in the Indianapolis/Fishers area to have a top of the line restaurant to come to and be sure they would always have expectations of ‘Only the Best.’” Peterson said.

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Korean meets Chipotle

Omoni Grill

Omoni RestaurantGrowing up, Diana Dexter watched her mother run a successful beauty salon and import business. The two would often talk about opening a restaurant one day.

“We’d evaluate restaurants we visited, discuss how we’d do things, putting together a plan we both knew would never be a reality,” Dexter said. “It was just a daydream, just for fun. After I married, every once in a while I’d casually discuss it with my husband, Paul. We’d both say, ‘Nah, we better not. It’s a bit risky.’”

But that didn’t stop Dexter from imagining how she’d run a restaurant.

Omoni means Mother

“Even after my mother passed away, every time I dined out, I’d think about what I’d change, whether the location was good, the menu was balanced, whether there was good parking and easy entry,” she said.

As a busy mom shuttling kids from school to activities, the former nurse was always looking for something fast, flavorful and healthy – and knew there must be others with the same need.

So, she started to develop her restaurant philosophy.

“I noticed Korean food was making headlines quite regularly. I also noticed the uproar when the Sriracha factory closed,” Dexter said. “I was surprised to see how many people had to have spice in their life.”

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Life’s a Banquet at Convivio

Italian eatery features pasta shop in a restaurant

Walk into Convivio and there’s no doubt the pasta served here is fresh. The pasta kitchen is located by the front door with a full view of all the pasta made from scratch daily.

Convivio“We have 10 to 12 different types right now – some are flavored – and we use vegetables such as spinach or beets,” said Andrea Melani, co-owner of the Italian restaurant that opened Nov. 14 at The Bridges shopping center in Carmel. “The idea is that you can express creativity in the shapes of the pasta and it is really what Italian cuisine is known for.”

Some of the pasta is made by a machine that runs constantly, while other is made by hand. Not only is the pasta served at each meal fresh, you can also buy it by the pound to take and enjoy at home.

“I think this is a unique twist,” Melani said. “The idea is to also have sauces to sell as well but we are still working on that. We’ve just been so busy since we opened.”

Passion for food and culture.

Melani knows a few things about restaurants – he grew up in the family restaurant business in Italy. He moved to the States 17 years ago and had his first job in Indiana at Ciao in Zionsville, owned by his partner in Convivio – Emilio Cento. Melani went on to work for a few other places, including Bravo, the well-known Castleton destination.

“The passion’s always been there but opening a restaurant can be a scary thing these days, especially coming up with a new concept,” Melani said. “It took a while to get rid of the fear – I was in a good place at Bravo and about to be made partner – but things had just become stale.”

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A Taste of the Islands on South Range Line Road: Jamaican Reggae Grill

When Eldon Chuck left the corporate world in 2012 he wasn’t envisioning a future spent playing golf with his buddies.

“I was thinking I was still fairly young and not at a point where I wanted full retirement,” Chuck said. “But I knew I didn’t want to go back to work for someone else so the choices were start another company or do something more hands on and something I enjoyed.”

Jamaican Reggae GrillHe knew his friends always enjoyed the Jamaican food he cooked up for gatherings at his home so his thoughts turned to opening a small restaurant featuring the food of his childhood in Jamaica. Food he learned to cook helping his grandmother in the kitchen.

So, in April 2015, he and his wife, Maryann, opened the Jamaican Reggae Grill in the Monon Square Shopping Center in Carmel.

“When we first opened we thought our sales would be within a 10 to 15 mile radius but we have people coming from Greenfield, Greenwood, South Bend – just all over,” the 57-year-old said. “Even to this day we still get many first time visitors which is amazing.”

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