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Jason Oswald often stands behind the bar he built out of concrete and hears people suggest how he should run his place, a bar in Goshen called Constant Spring.
It seems everyone has a cool idea about how to improve the place.
It should have French fries. (There isn't a fryer and won't be one.)
It should have a bigger menu. (It's getting bigger.)
It should have a certain kind of beer. (Give it time.)
"Most of these people are here a lot. I'm willing to listen to them, but I'm not necessarily going to do what they say," said Oswald, who opened Constant Spring on March 17.
If he'd listened to what others told him, he never would have opened a bar that doesn't allow smoking inside.
Guys installing the dart machines told him it wouldn't work.
His manager, Mark Yoder, who is a veteran of the Goshen bar and restaurant scene, said the same. "I told him there was no way Goshen would support a non-smoking bar," said Yoder.
Yoder admits he was wrong and is glad he was. "I prefer working in a smoke-free bar. I'm trying to quit. It's way nicer to work in a smoke-free bar," he said.
New York and even St. Joseph County are legislating smoking bans, but in Elkhart County it's still up to the business owner. A growing number of restaurants are going smokeless, but few bars have so far. Oswald's decision was an economic risk forced by economic reality.
Since The Dembufsky closed on February 2005, Oswald had wanted to open a business where people could hang out and hear live music. Dave Pottenger, a developer interested in the vitality of downtown Goshen, called him and offered help.
Pottenger bought the building that was the 110 Club and then Riki's 2, which had closed. Oswald bought the liquor license and worked from September to March to remodel the building.
He gutted it. He cleaned a half inch of dirt off the fans. He hauled out trash, but salvaged the beer memorabilia that was tucked in the basement storage or upstairs. He built a bar nearly 50 feet long from a cubic yard (that's a lot) of cement. He painted the pressed tin ceiling 14 feet above the floor. It was a lot like the construction work he'd been paid to do as a contractor, but this time it was on his place and he didn't take in a dime until he sold his first drink in March.
As the opening approached, there was a buzz among young Goshenites who were fans of Dembufsky. And then the buzz included that it would be nonsmoking.
Oswald had been planning to have a nonsmoking section in the building a half-block long, which singer Fred Eaglesmith called "a bar that's too long with a pool table in the middle" (since he was onstage in May, the pool table has moved).
But Oswald was nearly broke when he learned two machines to help filter smoke would cost him $6,000, so he said he'd at least try to have a non-smoking bar.
The good news is it's working, the complaints have been rare, and business, particularly on weekends, has been good. Those who want a cigarette step onto the sidewalk along Main Street to puff away.
"Theoretically, we shouldn't be doing this good because we're a nonsmoking bar," said Oswald.
He's created a comfortable place with interesting beer, a small menu and a map of Kingston, Jamaica, on the wall inside the front door. The name Constant Spring comes from the neighborhood he lived in as a child when his parents were church workers there.
Constant Spring is more of a bar than restaurant, but Sonia Oswald, Jason's sister and a culinary student at Ivy Tech State College, oversees the small kitchen and produces good food. Though I haven't been there for one, Constant Spring has offered ethnic food, including Jamaican, on special occasions.
The menu is small, but growing. The jerk chicken sandwich ($5) could be spicier, but is nice. The barbecue pork sandwich ($6) isn't too sweet. The relish on the bun alongside the hormone-free hot dogs is made in the kitchen and was sweet without being syrupy like many commercial versions.
When I was at the bar among those offering advice, I said the menu needed vegetables other than free popcorn and potato chips served alongside the sandwich. I got an order of steamed vegetables for a dollar and stuffed my yap with them for a time.
The winner from the kitchen is the hamburger. A local chef said it's among the best he's ever had. It would have been a contender in Burger Quest. The beef is purchased from a Shipshewana supplier that raises its own beef and guarantees it's hormone-free. The whole-wheat bun is interesting.
The toppings are still traditional, though Yoder and Oswald want to add more options. Discussions are ongoing about what they'll be. They argue good-naturedly. Oswald would like to have one with red beets and barbecue sauce.
"We're not going to do that," said Yoder.
Oswald said he'd like to put peanut butter on a burger.
Yoder shook his head.
The food was almost an afterthought at the bar. "Food wasn't a main priority. Now that we're doing it, I'm glad we are. It helps sell drinks," said Oswald. "We need to sell drinks to be in business, so we have drinks available."
Aside from wine and mixed drinks, four beer taps quench the thirst of customers. Old Style ($2, $1 on Mondays) is alongside two options from Bell's in Kalamazoo ($4 each). Oswald said he wants 10 taps, but isn't going to add them to put on bad beer. "I'm not rushing to put Budweiser on tap," he said.
Few bar owners are rushing to disallow smoking, but Oswald's gamble is paying off. I'm happy. I like this place. It has interesting food, drinks and people. In small-town Midwest, the value of any of those shouldn't be underestimated.
* Cathleen Hockman-Wert, co-author of "Simply In Season," will give a seminar on "What's So Great About Local Food?" at 7 p.m. Saturday at College Mennonite Church, 1900 S. Main St., Goshen. She'll share samples from recipes in the book and talk about the health, environmental and community benefits in eating local food. The book was released last year. She'll also appear at a book-signing from 10 a.m. to noon at Mill Race Center Farmers Market, 212 W. Washington St., Goshen.
* The Brown Bean Coffee House has opened in the Old Bag Factory, 1100 Chicago Ave., Goshen. The shop on the lower level has espresso drinks, coffee and a breakfast and lunch menu. Owner Minyi Terry is also offering bubble tea, an Asian drink with pearls of tapioca. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Phone: 534-9497.
* Goshen Health System is offering a healthy cooking class for children ages 9 to 14. Four classes on consecutive Thursdays will start July 20. They'll take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at First English Lutheran Church at the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifth Street, Goshen. The classes are $10 each or $30 for the series. To register, call 535-2679.
* Olive Garden has a new menu with four new entrees and two new desserts. The Italian restaurant chain is offering risotto for the first time at its 582 U.S. restaurants. The new dishes include Chianti-braised short ribs, shrimp and asparagus risotto, Tuscan garlic chicken and braised beef & tortelloni. The desserts being added are chocolate gelato and a no-sugar-added chocolate torte. Beginning today, videocasts of how to prepare three of the recipes are available at www.olivegarden.com/recipes/ or through iTunes. Olive Garden had $2.6 billion in sales in the last fiscal year and has an average annual sales of $4.6 million per restaurant.
* Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar will open its third location in the area in August. The new restaurant will be at 4343 Grape Road, north of Day Road, Mishawaka, according to a press release. Owner Gene Stauffer said it will still have a sports theme and a lot of televisions, but will have different decor and style of building.
* LaSalle Grill and The Carriage House Dining Room in South Bend are both on this year's list of AAA Four Diamond Restaurants. It's the 10th consecutive year for LaSalle Grill and the fourth for Carriage House. Cushing Manor Inn in South Bend was on the Four Diamond Hotel list for the seventh consecutive year.
* The Village at Winona, 1101 E. Canal, Winona Lake, has a new restaurant. Cerulean has sushi, Asian fusion and tapas, along with wine, beer and sake. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and can be reached by calling (574) 269-1226.