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Local Scholars Inn sold, to reopen under new name

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The owner of the Scholars Inn Restaurant and Lounge on Massachusetts Avenue has sold its assets to an Avon restaurateur who plans to re-launch the upscale eatery under a new name and format.

Terms of the deal, which closed Tuesday, have Lyle Feigenbaum leasing the space to Mike Cunningham, who operates the small Stone Creek Dining Co. chain under Cunningham Restaurant Group.

Scholars Inn is set to close April 25. Cunningham, 47, plans to reopen the restaurant as Mesh in mid-August following an extensive renovation. He plans to reveal the old brick walls that had been covered and feature a lot of hardwood flooring to give the décor a more casual-yet-upscale feel.

Feigenbaum, who will remain owner of the building and its parking lot, launched the Indianapolis restaurant with his wife Kerry in 2002. The downtown location is an expansion of their Scholars Inn business in Bloomington, where they also own a bed-and-breakfast and two bakehouses. A Scholars Inn Bakehouse in Broad Ripple closed last year.

The Mass Ave. location underwent an extensive renovation and rebranding in 2007, becoming SI—for Sexy & Intimate—but the restaurant's performance ultimately fell short of expectations.

“We had moderate success but nowhere near the success we had when we opened,” Feigenbaum said. “We were still making money, [but] it just wasn’t worth it.”

The new menu will feature dinner entrees in the $15-to-$22 range and $8-to-$10 soups and sandwiches. A filet or bison tenderloin at SI, by comparison, is priced at more than $30.

“It’s quite a sexy, pricy New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas feel,” Cunningham said of SI. “Obviously, that didn’t work very well for them. So it’s going to be a major renovation.”

Cunningham’s Stone Creek restaurants are in Greenwood, Noblesville, Plainfield and Zionsville. He also operates Boulder Creek Dining Co. in Brownsburg, Charbonos in Avon and Café 251 on North Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis.

The Cincinnati native moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and opened The Big Chill yogurt shop three years later at 116th Street and Allisonville Road. He expanded to five locations before the yogurt business “ran its course,” forcing him to sell or close the stores.  

He rebounded in 1997 with the opening of Boulder Creek.

Meanwhile, the rapid growth of the Feigenbaums' wholesale bakery business in Bloomington led the couple to unload the Indianapolis restaurant.

“We were being torn away from our Indianapolis operations,” Feigenbaum said. “It just got increasingly more and more difficult.”

Products from Scholars Inn Bakehouse are sold in restaurants, hospitals, university cafeterias and hotels across the state. They’re also starting to spread across the Midwest on grocery shelves at 150 Kroger stores and another 25 Marsh locations.

IBJ profiled the bakery in March.

The Feigenbaums' exit from downtown represents a complete pullout for them from the Indianapolis market.
 
Feigenbaum had fielded previous offers to sell SI but felt more confident with Cunningham, who had been searching for another downtown location. Negotiations began about three months ago.

“I like the feel of that whole area,” Cunningham said. “We think it’s got a lot of potential.”

Regina Mehallick, the chef and co-owner of nearby R bistro, said she is “shocked” to see the Scholars Inn close. But she’s familiar with Cunningham, who she hopes will maintain the avenue’s trendy charm.

“I’m really glad there’s not a corporate restaurant coming in,” she said.

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  • meh~
    yeah they ruined it when they remodeled it.. I loved it before the remodel, but was like meh~ afterwards...
  • Hope the new place loses the 'tude
    The attempt at "chic" was mostly just bartenders and waitstaff going out of their way to be rude and arrogant. Thursday evenings used to be bustling, but the "rebranding" just meant waiting longer for service. The key was waiting until the staff was damn good and ready to bring you a drink; forget customer service. Because arrogant = chic, right? Epic fail!
  • When you call it "chic", it ain't no more
    I was able to become great friends with many who worked at the original SI. With the new style came a bombardment of house cleaning and unfortunately the people (management and staff) who best knew the customers and style of the restaurant were swept out. Great people, workers, and the heart of what that restaurant was.
  • Was great once
    I actually had my wedding reception in the upstairs bar before the remodel... it was such a great place before it tried to become "sexy." I'm glad the Bloomington business is going well and we can all continue to enjoy goods from the Bakehouse though!
  • To be fair, however--
    The servers and bartenders in the lounge area at SI have always been great every time I have been there. Ironically, friends and I recently started to pop in on Thursday or Friday evenings because the place was completely empty, which made it a quiet place to unwind. Intimate, but probably not in the way that they intended.
  • Never should have messed with a good thing...
    I agree with KCAS and MB. After the rebrand, I was sorely disappointed. The first thought I had was, "What kind of research did they do beforehand, to make them think this was a good idea?" The upstairs area of the original Scholars on Mass Ave. was my favorite bar for years, and it broke my heart to see it replaced with the current "poser chic" vibe. I can't say I'm overly upset to see it closing, since the real soul of the place has been gone for a while.
    • Good riddance
      I've been sorely disappointed with Scholars Inn for probably a year. It used to be fun to have a bite to eat and a couple of drinks, but the service has been so horrid recently that there was no way I'd be going back. Hopefully things get a bit better under a new shop.
    • Trendy2infinity
      "Mesh?" A bad attempt at Hoosier-chic.
    • KCAS is correct
      We loved the original Scholar's Inn - the decor, the menu (especially the brunch). Not only were we disappointed with the changes, there was nothing sexy or intimate about the new SI (the lighting was just too bright) and it didn't feel anything like restaurants in bigger cities (Chicago, New York). I will have to say the service we received was very good, though.
    • Scholar's Inn
      Oh no Scholar's Inn is closing until August. But look who is buying it!!!

      Megan
    • Glad it's staying local
      I'll echo Regina's comment about being glad it's a local place going in there and not a chain. I'm hopeful the service at the new place will be better than SI - I'm fairly tolerant when it comes to service, but every experience I had there was bad.
    • Matter of Time
      I loved the original Scholar's Inn restaurant on Mass Ave., and when they rebranded/renovated to become "SI"... I think there was a collective eyeroll all around Indy. Why did they change something that had seen so much success?
    • No Surprise
      No surprise here. The combination of bad (arrogant) service and overpriced, overhyped, poor quality of food did this place in.

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