BY BILL WEAVER
“My vision and my passion ran into my past,” Andrew Thomas laughs, “and I ended up owning Bear’s Place.”
Thomas, 42, was helping manage his family’s diverse businesses in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when he decided to do a little “prospecting.” Always looking for new opportunities, he saw that Bear’s Place in Bloomington was for sale. Memories flooded back from when he was an undergraduate at Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the early-90s and Bear’s was where he met friends after class. Negotiations to buy the place were tough, but after nearly two years of back and forth, in March he had a deal.
Over spring break, Thomas oversaw the complete refitting of the kitchen, while his wife Devin, 30, a 2006 IU grad, tackled the menu. “Nothing’s coming out of a can,” she insists. “It has to be quality, the best product we can make.”
Adds Thomas, “What’s great about Bear’s Place is the feel of it, the history. We’re keeping the charm, but elevating the quality. We’re not changing what you see when you walk in.”
There are, however, changes coming to the Back Room, including a new bar, upgraded sound equipment, large screen TVs, and new seating. “We hope to get comedy back, more jazz, rock, blues, and tie that in with sporting events when we’re not having music,” says Thomas. “We’re still having the Ryder Film Series and the Thursday karaoke shows.”
The couple say they are thrilled to be back in Bloomington. “The mix of cultures, the diversity, the people, and the energy,” are what Thomas likes best. “Fort Wayne is a wonderful community but lacks this feel, this vibe. You have all different types of people coexisting, with different views, different values — that’s exciting. It’s the best of all worlds.”
The reaction he’s gotten from the community, and from the staff, has been very encouraging, he says. “We’ve had an unbelievable outpouring of support for Bear’s Place and for the energy that we’re putting into it. I’ve bought existing businesses before and it’s never been so exciting. I’ve never felt this kind of outpouring. Believe it or not, it actually makes me work harder because there’s an expectation that I have to live up to,” he grins, adding, “Now I have to deliver!”