Pandemic leads to closures of John’s Famous Stew and restaurant co-owned by Kimball Musk – IndyStar

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St. Elmo Steak House has survived two world wars and the Spanish Flu, and will survive COVID-19 according to President of Huse Culinary, Craig Huse.

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This past week was not a good one for the Indianapolis dining scene, which saw a century-old restaurant specializing in beef stew announce that it would not be reopening, while a newer bistro from The Kitchen Restaurant Group closed after brunch on Sunday.

John’s Famous Stew on Saturday announced that it was not reopening after being closed — but for an attempt at takeout — since March 17.

“It is with a heavy heart I share we will not be reopening. It has been our pleasure serving you over the past 40 plus years. Thank you for all the memories,” a posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page said.

Owner Mary Caito said she is hoping to sell the restaurant, 1146 Kentucky Ave., so that diners can continue to get the stew and breaded tenderloin for which it is known.

“This was an enormous decision on my part. I am really hoping a new passionate buyer has the excitement that my dad had for it his whole life, and keep making the stew and foods so that people continue to enjoy it,” Caito told the Star Tuesday.

She took over after the November 2018 death of her father, Tommy Caito, who had bought the business in 1975 and ran it with his wife, Kathy Sue Ellis Caito, until her September 1994 death.

John’s Famous Stew was started on Washington Street in 1911 by a pair of immigrant Macedonian brothers featuring the stew their mother, Dapa Strangeff, prepared in cast-iron kettles set over a wood-burning stove back in their homeland.

The son of one of the founders moved the business to South Street after World War II. Caito bought the business from their successors.

A buyer would get the trademarked stew recipe, Mary Caito said.

“They’ll have the recipe and the format, so the quality should stay intact,” she said. “I am just so hopeful that it will go on; that this won’t really be the end.”

Most of the nine employees at the southwest side restaurant had worked at the shop for decades. They include manager Betty Kassing, who had been there since 1976.

Caito, a social worker who lives in Florida, said he had considered not reopening the business from the start of the pandemic’s devastating impact on restaurants, but her residency out of state also factored into the decision.

 “It is a really excellent business. If someone was local and purchased it, it could go on. I definitely think there’s a lot of potential there,” she said. “I don’t want this to be the end.”

Uncertainty around the coronavirus also claimed Hedge Row, part of the Kitchen Restaurant Group co-owned by Kimbal Musk, brother of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

A Facebook posting last week described the closure after Sunday brunch as temporary.

Touted as a relaxed American bistro featuring rustic dishes from a wood-fired oven, with food from local sources, the Hedge Row concept started in 2004 in Boulder, Colorado.


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The shuttering is “due to the continued challenges and uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic,” said Courtney Walsh, a spokeswoman for The Kitchen Restaurant Group via email.

Hedge Row, 350 Massachusetts Ave., had been closed to dine-in service since March, then offered family meals for pickup, and recently opened its patio for dine-in, but only for daytime meals.

“We hope to see our guests again once the pandemic is over and wish everyone health and happiness during this trying time,” Walsh said.

The move follows the March indefinite closure of sister concept Next Door American Eatery in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, also attributed to the pandemic.

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Contact IndyStar reporter Cheryl V. Jackson at [email protected] or 317-444-6264. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylvjackson.

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