There are some businesses that are integral in the fabric and story of a community.
Think about the town you live in. If someone asks, “What are some things I HAVE to do when I visit?” you immediately think of them. Maybe the dive bar in that back alley, an ice cream shop that has handmade old-fashioned vanilla but you have to specifically ask for it, a barber shop that only does high fades, a music venue where every good band played before they got famous.
“But where should I eat when I go there?”
A good restaurant or two or five aren’t just threads in the fabric of a town, they’re a whole cross section. Until your town has the perfect place to eat, it’s just plain not a town yet.
Our guest today is the owner of one such eatery. Anyone who knows anything about Bloomington, Indiana is going to insist that you eat at his place at least once while you’re here. In the 1970’s, you would stumble into the Uptown Café after a long night listening to music at the Bluebird. You’d order gumbo or jambalaya to soaked up all the booze.
But now, 40 years later, Michael Cassady has refined the dining experience. His place seats 250 people instead of 30. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served and the place closes at 10. Michael sees his restaurant as a kind of urban work of art and anyone who’s spent a moment inside couldn’t agree more. On today’s show, Michael shares the story of The Uptown Café.
We’re glad you joined us!
Here are some highlights:
What childhood memories led Michael to starting The Uptown?
Michael grow up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and used to watch Justin Wilson talk about Louisiana cooking on PBS. He’s loved the big flavors of the Big Easy ever since.
Michael moved to Bloomington in the 1960’s to study political science. The whole time he was in school, he was cooking. He spent time at The Office Lounge, The TOA, The New Age Deli, The Vienna Doghouse, The Gables, and lots of other places.
He finally decided to buy his own placer and start a diner. He modeled it after The Empire Diner in New York City and fashioned the cooking style after Paul Prudhomme.
What’s evolved since you started the Uptown?
When Michael started, there really wasn’t a whole lot as far as good cuisine. Even yogurt was seen as a left wing food. American food has come a long way since then.
Where do you go when you want to get some food out?
It’s not something Michael does a lot. He lives in the county and generally doesn’t want to go out once he gets home.
When he does go out, he generally goes to places where he loves the chef like C3, Feast, Finchs, & NOCO. His buddy owns Mother Bears Pizza so that’s on his list too.
What advice do you have for people who want to open a restaurant?
Keep it simple.
Always have a group of trusted advisors.
What does The Uptown look like in 5 years?
Michael is 68 years old and he know that The Uptown will need new leadership soon. He’s hoping he can hand the operations down to one of his sons or create another plan that keeps it in the family.
Special thanks to Michael Cassady for taking the time to share the Uptown story with us.
The show was produced and edited by me Jeremy Goodrich.
The music is by my high school buddy Mark VInten. In high school, we played a lot of soccer together. I was the goalie and he was the sweeper. For anyone who understands that relationship, it makes total sense why we’re still friends 25 years later.
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Until the next time, We truly appreciate you listening.
Mentioned in the episode:
- Justin Walker
- The Office Lounge
- The Tao
- The New Age Deli
- The Vienna Doghouse
- The Gables
- Commanders Palace in New Orleans
- The Empire Diner
- Paul Prudhomme
- Mother Bears Pizza