by PAUL BICKLEY
Michael Cassady supported himself through earning a political science degree at Indiana University by cooking, and at age 26 was still at it when his roommate asked, “When are you going to stop working for other people?”
The year was 1976, and Cassady stopped. He opened his own 30-seat eatery, called it The Uptown Cafe, and started preparing made-from-scratch breakfasts.
As the years passed, it became increasingly apparent that the original location, now home to Rockit’s Pizza, was too small. In 1984, Cassady moved The Uptown to the Allen Building at 102 E. Kirkwood, expanded the seating capacity to 110, acquired a beer- and-wine license, added dinner, and began cooking Cajun entrees.
“I just felt like I could do it,” Cassady, now 72, says. “I’d always harbored an interest in Cajun cuisine. I like the bold flavors.”
The Uptown Cafe turns 45 this year, and Cassady is still cooking Cajun. Over the years he has visited Louisiana and studied the cuisine, but says, “I do my own thing with Cajun cooking, just as the Cajuns do with French cooking.” Popular Uptown dishes include gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and Louisiana hot pepper chicken.
In 2012, The Uptown expanded to the second half of the ground floor of the Allen Building, adding a 50-seat bar area. Cassady bought a three- way liquor license, renovated the dining area to match the bar’s updated aesthetics, and overhauled the kitchen.
“With the addition of the bar,” Cassady says, “the restaurant reached maturity.” It now seats more than 300 patrons and has 100 employees.
Another change will come to The Uptown—someday. Cassady’s son Galen, 32, who has served as general manager for the last three years, will eventually assume ownership. Though Cassady says he’s “in no hurry to leave,” he has full confidence in his son. “Galen talks the talk and walks the walk,” he says.
When that day comes, Galen has no plans to change the formula. “My father has put decades of hard work into building The Uptown into the wonderful place it is, and I share his vision and will do my best to continue the tradition.”