BIRA Executive Director Steve Swihart. Photo by Lynae Sowinski


As Bloomington’s culinary scene has grown, so too has BIRA, the Bloomington Independent Restaurant Association. A not-for-profit organization, BIRA’s mission is to promote and unify Bloomington’s local eateries. BIRA now has more than 40 members and a new executive director with big plans.

Steve Swihart, no stranger to the restaurant business, is the new headman. His experience includes opening The Video Saloon in 1978 and managing several restaurants for Noble Roman’s, the Indiana pizza chain, before pursuing careers in geology and medicine. Says Swihart, “I want to impart the knowledge and success of our pillar local restaurants to all of our members through intra-association mentoring—great food, great service, great finances.”

A self-proclaimed “idea person,” one of Swihart’s main goals is to create “fun, memorable, unique events that excite and inspire.” One of these is the Flavors of 4th Street International Food Festival on Friday, August 24, it highlighted the cuisines of the international restaurants on East 4th Street. With a $10 entry fee (students got in for $5 and children under 12 were free), sample plates of food were offered for just $1 apiece.

Another idea being explored by BIRA is the establishment of “food neighborhoods,” such as Kirkwood, north town, the courthouse Square, and East 4th Street. The idea of neighborhoods is to create recognizable event destinations within Bloomington. Other events in the works are a Mystery Dinner in the courthouse rotunda and a formal outdoor supper among the vines at Oliver Winery. Swihart stresses that BIRA’s relationships with Bloomington Entertainment & Arts District, Visit Bloomington, Downtown Bloomington, Inc., and Indiana University are all key to the organization’s successful events.

Swihart is also intent on shaping BIRA’s website into a resource for residents and visitors, including member-restaurant profiles and a recipe of the month. A new promotion on the site utilizes the key cards from local hotels. Guests are able to scan their key’s QR code with a smartphone and launch BIRA’s mobile app. From there, users navigate through different cuisines to generate a list of restaurant recommendations.