by PETER DORFMAN
To use a juggling metaphor, David Howard is a guy who keeps a lot of plates spinning.
His latest project is Alley Works, a new apartment building with a restaurant complex at the former Yellow Cab site on 6th Street, west of the downtown Square.
The restaurants are part of ReVv & Strum Hospitality group, of which Howard is a managing partner along with Chef Bret Scott Pafford Jr. The eateries include the rooftop restaurant Top Bar, featuring Pacific Rim– style steaks and seafood; a separate event space; and street-level restaurants called Nourish Bar, offering healthful fare, and Brilliant Coffee Company, featuring gelato and coffee. Howard and Pafford also recently opened the Village Pub, a gastropub at 206 N. Walnut, the site of the old Princess Theatre.
If operating four new restaurants and a large rental building isn’t enough for the 36-year-old native of Granger, Indiana, these aren’t even his core businesses. That’s Howard’s Home Improvement (HHI), which launched in 2005 in Bloomington and South Bend, Indiana, providing construction and renovation services.
His introduction to the food business began with La Poblana Taco Truck, which he co-owns with Chef Angel Magno. One large prep kitchen in the Alley Works building will service the truck and the restaurants.
“We can do catering there, as well,” Howard says. “Best cuts go to the Top Bar. We’ll take the cutoffs and meat bones, boil them down into soup stock for a quick lunch. We can minimize waste, and it’s very economical.”
Howard is all about leverage, he explains. His company can buy a property, build it out, then own and operate the commercial space. The interior designs generally incorporate wood flooring and trim from Distinctive Hardwood Floors (DHF), previously of Nashville, Indiana. Howard is now a partner in that enterprise with DHF’s renowned founder, Daniel Antes. They recently relocated DHF from a 2,200-square-foot space in Nashville to a 20,000-square-foot wood shop in Bloomington.
While HHI is known for high-end projects, Howard attributes some of its success to the fact that he will take on a wide range of jobs. “If you want a half-million-dollar floor, we can make one, but if you need a gutter repair on a $60,000 house, we’ll do that, too,” he says.
Howard sees his enterprises as businesses, but also as a community. His 80 employees have access to the company’s “barn space,” a communal recreational building where HHI provides a gym, space for parties and barbecues, lifts for employees to work on their cars, and other amenities. “It’s not just the paycheck,” he says. “They get to use all of the tools and equipment. They can borrow trucks. I’ve helped some of the guys finance their homes.”
Howard has been building things since he was 17 and preparing for college. “My parents had a fishing shack,” he recalls. “I renovated the shack. I taught myself plumbing, electrical work, and everything I needed. Then I started doing work for teachers. That’s how I supported myself in college.”
Howard majored in aviation flight science and minored in business and cello performance at Western Michigan University. “Senior year,” he says, “I asked myself, do I continue? I was already doing really well in construction.”
He had more than $100,000 in student loan debt, and aviation jobs promised salaries in the $20,000 range. “I was a commercial pilot for about a week,” Howard says. “Then I never flew again.”
He hung on to the cello, however, and has played in string quartets on and off for 15 years. He is currently playing cello in a trio and singing at the Village Pub and plans to perform, as well, at the Top Bar at Alley Works.
Howard met his wife, Jana, at Soma Coffeehouse and Juice Bar on East Kirkwood when he was working on a project at the coffee bar and she was employed there. The couple have two children, ages 3 and 6.
Visit howardshomeimprovement.com for more information.