Local Scholars Inn sold, to reopen under new name

April 14, 2010

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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