BY CARMEN SIERING
For more than 20 years, a visit to Malibu Grill meant a visit with JB (John Bailey), the downtown restaurant’s loquacious long-time managing partner. When JB took off for Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of 2016, some folks wondered what that might mean for the popular restaurant. They needn’t have worried—JB left it in the good hands of Jon Chickedantz, who has been with Malibu since 1998.
It just so happens Chickedantz grew up in JB’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Not that he knew that when he walked into the restaurant looking for a job. Recently returned from San Francisco, where he had moved after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, Chickedantz came to Bloomington to attend grad school.
“So I sat down across from JB and he said, ‘Chickedantz? Did you grow up on Pembroke Lane?’” he recalls. “And when I said ‘yes,’ he told me he used to throw acorns at me when I was growing up.”
Chickedantz started at Malibu as a server, but within a month was promoted to bar manager, his official job title until he moved up to JB’s position this year. So what’s his title now? “Managing partner,” he says. “Maybe the industry standard is general manager. But I’m still our beverage director and bar manager, too.” And it’s clear he doesn’t really care what his title is. In fact, his business cards don’t have a title on them at all.
For Chickedantz, it isn’t about titles, but about stability and commitment. “So many of our staff members have been here for 10 or more years, and that continuity makes my job a lot easier than it would be otherwise,” he says. “Malibu has been a successful small business for more than 20 years and that’s a tribute to a lot of hard work from the staff and from having that stability.”
Chickedantz came here for a degree, and he got it—a master’s in biology from IUPUI. But he stuck with the restaurant. That’s where he met his partner, Emmie O’Connor. And he’s stayed in Bloomington. “What I like most about Bloomington is that this is a community that’s connected,” he says. “What I also love, and I think this resonates with a lot of us, is that Bloomington delivers a big city culture in small town Indiana. And you can’t beat that.”