Mary Koselke has always seen for-profit business as a way to do “social good.” That’s the premise behind Fiddlehead, a newly planned restaurant in Michigan City shooting for a March 2015 opening at 422 Franklin Street.
Koselke, owner of Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso and Aaron O’Reilly, her business partner with Fiddlehead and manager of Pikk’s Tavern in Valparaiso, plan to employ United States military veterans as managers of the restaurant as a way to help them to acquire adequate experience in the industry, which will help them either run their own restaurant in the future or become managers elsewhere.
“We want to help veterans with this venture - that is very close to both of our hearts, and we feel like we can do that successfully,” Koselke said.
O’Reilly called the plan more of a “training hub” in Michigan City for veterans in general.
“We will find veterans interested in the restaurant business through both the Wounded Warrior project and Folds of Honor organization and give them the opportunity they need,” he said. “With both Mary and I working in the restaurant, we will be able to manage everything ourselves. With hiring an assistant manager, it will give them skills they can use elsewhere. We are going to try to work with area casinos, restaurants and other businesses to implement these new recruits into the community after about a year of training with us.”
O’Reilly said that while researching the unemployment rates of younger veterans that have been deployed since September 11, 2001 - that rate was found to be significantly higher overall than the general population.
“I thought that seemed ludicrous - especially considering their skills, drive and determination,” O’Reilly said. “I couldn’t figure out why veterans aren’t the most desired group in the workforce.”
Koselke said the focus on the fare at Fiddlehead will always be local, but personal touches from both her and O’Reilly, both lifelong cooks, will make this yet another unique dining option in Michigan City.
“We are still tweaking our dinner menu, but there will be a lot of things from what Aaron and I grew up with,” she said. “Aaron grew up with pierogies, so you are going to see pierogies on the menu. We both grew up pickling and canning items so you are going to see stuff like that.”
O’Reilly said that when he looks at the menu he sees childhood memories.
“That’s really what excites you the most,” he said.
Both Koselke and O’Reilly say their cooking inspiration came from both their grandmothers.
“I grew up working in my aunt’s restaurant where we’d make pierogies, pickled beets - pretty much any american or European dish you could imagine,” O’Reilly said. “That’s where I learned to cook and become the cook in my family.”
“My Grandma Koselke would start cooking at 5 a.m. and not stop until 7 p.m. and then do the days dishes for her five farmer boys - five really big guys,” Koselke said. “I loved being on a farm as a kid. You could see where your food was coming from. We raised the chickens and eggs we ate. We had pigs and dairy cows.”
Koselke said her mother would tell her cooking was her “gift.”
“It’s something you share with people,” she said. “It’s quite special to know that people trust me to put things I prepare into their bodies.”
“If you have a passion for something, it’s more than a business - it’s your life,” Koselke added.
That passion has resulted in downtown Valparaiso’s most popular lunch spot (Blackbird Cafe) and soon the newest place to grab a bite in Michigan City.
With a full menu still to come, Koselke did confirm that three types of burgers (regular, bison and vegan) will be popular items. Fiddlehead will serve lunch and dinner everyday and breakfast on the weekends. Beer and wine will also be available, most of which Koselke said will come from microbreweries.
“We’re going to take traditional American dishes, ones we grew up with, and give them a culinary twist,” O’Reilly said.
Koselke and O’Reilly chose Michigan City for this endeavor based on the recent positive momentum that has been created there through the Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy and bustling Uptown Arts District, which will be the neighborhood home to Fiddlehead .
“The city government is finally behind the changes and Mayor (Ron) Meer has brought a new sense of optimism,” Koselke said. “He has put people in place that are doing things. They have the money and the incentive. That’s exciting to watch.”
Being a part of the largest arts community in Northwest Indiana and within walking distance of a beautiful lakefront are “two more amazing things that the city has and are doing great things with,” Koselke added.
O’Reilly pointed out that some of the same people involved with the recent revitalization of downtown Valparaiso are “now part of the same thing going on in Michigan City.”
The chief person who was involved in much of the planning in Valpo and now Michigan City is Craig Phillips, Michigan City City Planner and former City Planner of Valparaiso.
“I think the addition of Fiddlehead will be very beneficial to downtown and the Uptown Arts District,” Phillips said. “We are trying to create a vibrant arts and entertainment district and this falls right in line with that.”
Phillips added that Koselke and Blackbird Cafe in particular have “a great reputation and are well-regarded in Valpo” and that he expects “the same response here in Michigan City.”
“I’m very excited about them offering another dining option in Michigan City and am doing everything I can to help them make the transition as smooth as possible,” he said, also touching on their plan to help veterans in the process. “That's a great strategy. They should be commended for doing something creative and different to try and help members of the veteran community that may not have had the opportunity or had one close on them."
Much of the funding for Fiddlehead will come from Koselke and O’Reilly, but they hope to put in for potential grants to help get this going for the good of the veterans as soon as possible.
A Kickstarter video produced by Ideas in Motion Media is also in the works to help drum up support from members of the community who’d like to support the effort to train veterans into holding firm positions in the restaurant business.
“We are going to give everything we can with this restaurant - for the veterans and the community,” O’Reilly said.