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Tom Battista: Venture developing with panache

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Bluebeard's taps offer a generous supply of local beer. - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • Bluebeard's taps offer a generous supply of local beer.

Always about the bread

Battista has always had a soft spot for great bakeries.

“As I travel around the country and go to all these cities, I find some great little places to eat,” Battista says. “To me, it’s always about the bread. When a place serves mediocre bread, I know they’re where they could be.”
When, on a trip to Louisville, he was introduced to the renowned Blue Dog Bakery, he began a personal campaign and get them to open a branch of their business in Indianapolis.

Blue Dog declined to open a store here, but their owners offered to help Battista open the kind of bakery he dreamt about. Hence Amelia’s, part of the new develop-ment Battista has created on Virginia Avenue that includes the restaurant Bluebeard, as well as a barbershop and Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company.

Bluebeard’s name is derived from Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut’s novel. The restaurant, in a kind of homage, is bedecked with antique typewriters, including one that is reputed to be a replica of the machine Vonnegut used to write his book.

But the restaurant is really like a museum of found objects, including a rail from the old Virginia Avenue trolley line that Battista has managed to incorporate into the design of the bar. Tables have been crafted from a tree that once stood in Battista’s yard and he’s converted enormous old loudspeaker horns into overhead lights.

As for the food, Battista beams: “It’s unbelievable. It’s all local. It is Indianapolis. It’s these young guys that love our city and they’re here to stay.”

When Tom and Sherry, the restaurant’s majority shareholders, met with the rest of the management team, they asked themselves how the business could give back to the community. Rather than make cash contributions or donations, the group hit on the idea of realizing do-able neighborhood and community projects in the same spirit as those they accomplished on Mass Ave. “We can do more for our city, physically doing little projects than by giving money,” says Tom.

Their first project will be construction of a viewing stand overlooking the nearby interstate, in the no-man’s land between Holy Rosary, Fountain Square and Fletcher Place. “There’s a brow of a hill out there that Lilly has planted with trees,” says Battista.

The plan is to collaborate with People For Urban Progress to build a pergola using seats from Bush Stadium and roofing from the Hoosier Dome. “You’ll be able to go out there and have your lunch and wonder, 'Where are all those people going in such a hurry?’” he says, adding, “We’ll have the greatest view of Downtown.”

Which is perfect for a guy who loves seeing his city take shape. Tom Battista doesn’t just have a sense of place, he actually knows how to build it. He looks around Bluebeard’s courtyard. “When people come here and they say something like, 'Oh, this reminds me of Chicago!’ it’s a backhanded compliment. Our son, Ed, says to them, 'No. This is Indianapolis. This is local. This is us.’”

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