Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Pure Eatery, the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jon and Amy Andrus. As the name suggests, the couple envisioned a casual restaurant that featured handmade food with a minimum of processing, preservatives and the like. What they didn’t expect is that they would reluctantly pass the keys to a family member and a friend less than two years after opening.
“I’ve heard many times, but I’ve never really experienced it to understand how true it is, that a business is like a baby,” said Jason Jacobi, who along with Jon’s brother, Dave, became co-owners and took over day-to-day management of Pure early this year.
“It really is like a baby—with the attention you have to give it, getting it from infancy to getting it to where it can walk on its own,” said Jacobi, 34. “And so I think Amy, especially, felt like it was her baby, and she saw that we were going to keep a lot of the stuff [they started], and take it where she wanted to go.”
That’s a pretty far piece from where Pure began. Amy and Jon opened the restaurant in June 2010 in the heart of Fountain Square. They concentrated on breakfast and lunch, operating between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. in a cavernous and angular space carved out of the interior of the Murphy Arts Center at 1043 Virginia Ave.
Openness and transparency were the orders of the day. Patrons would walk to a counter at the back wall, request their food, and then watch it being prepared just over the counter before taking their dishes to tables. Popular early morning items included breakfast tacos; soups, salads and sandwiches dominated the lunch menu.
Long poised as the city’s next breakout entertainment district, Fountain Square provided Pure a few growing pains. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail project was taking shape right outside its front door, and for many months in 2011 the street and sidewalks were all but impassable due to construction.
The complications mounted. Amy gave birth to a baby girl in September 2011, and Jon decided to enlist in the Navy Reserve to take advantage of the health-care benefits, said Dave Andrus, also owner of downtown’s Pearl Street Pizzeria & Pub.
That meant Jon would spend nine months away from home for training. Amy decided to relocate to South Carolina to be closer to family, leaving Pure’s next phase to Dave and Jacobi.
“We loved what they were doing,” said Jacobi, a veteran of downtown eateries The Pub Indianapolis and O’Reilly’s Irish Bar & Restaurant. “We had a couple different avenues we wanted to take, but for the most part, we liked their concept and wanted to move it forward.”
Pardon the extended metaphor, but Pure hit puberty in a hurry. Jacobi and Andrus built a bar inside the space, taking advantage of a three-way liquor license Pure purchased in late 2011. They ditched breakfast service and instead extended the eatery’s hours until 3 a.m., in a move calculated to court local restaurant employees looking for a post-shift nip and nosh. They hired a wait staff and beefed up the menu, adding appetizers, dinner entrees and desserts.
Sales experienced a near-instantaneous growth spurt. During a disappointing February, Pure’s gross sales barely topped $7,000. It closed in March for a $30,000 renovation, which included adding the bar, walling off the kitchen, and further segmenting the dining space to make it feel more intimate. In its first full month back in business—and now under the management of Jacobi and Dave Andrus—Pure posted gross sales of $16,500.
Sales for June zoomed to $27,600, as the late-night hours and expanded menu took hold. Receipts have ticked a bit higher in the months since, but remain near $30,000.
“That’s the magic number,” Jacobi said of Pure’s approximate break-even point. “If we can get up to $30,000, that’s when good stuff starts to happen.”
Pure expends a higher-than-usual amount for its food—about $11,000 to $12,000 per month, or about 40 percent of its total expenses. Table-service restaurants typically keep food costs around 30 to 35 percent.
Dedicated to buying produce and artisanal items from Indiana-based suppliers, Pure is unable to reap the cost-saving benefits of buying in bulk. “We don’t want to get away from [high-quality items], because that’s why people are coming,” Jacobi said.
In the video at top, Jacobi details the transformation of Pure since taking over management and the reasoning behind the changes.