Trailblazing Irvington restaurant closing after 18 years in business

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The Legend Classic Irvington Cafe is closing after 18 years in business, its owners announced Wednesday on Facebook.

John and Kim Robertson said the restaurant at 5614 E. Washington St. would operate through April 30. They urged those with gift cards to use them before the closure.

The owners said “several different factors” are leading them to close the restaurant and retire, including repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yes, we did survive this year financially, but the enduring physical, mental and emotional toll it has put us through was one of the factors in making our decision to retire from this business,” they said. “We have family and grandchildren we want to share good times with while we still have the energy to do so, just like all of you.”

The Robertsons said they were hoping, along with the landlord, for someone to purchase the business and “keep it running in some form.”

Since opening in 2003, The Legend has become a culinary institution in Irvington. Fans of the restaurant on Facebook gave credit to the owners for operating a trailblazing business in the resurgent east-side neighborhood.

“We will surely miss you,” said commenter Dan Adams. “I am not sure that everyone understands the chance you took along with a few others that ultimately led to the rebirth of the Irvington Business District.”

The Robertsons, who moved from New Jersey to Indianapolis in 1990, chose a 1920s Arts and Crafts-style building on Irvington’s main commercial drag for their restaurant and filled it with period-appropriate furnishings.

The menu focused on comfort food, with classic dinner entrees like meatloaf and breaded chicken, but also many more adventurous and upscale dishes, including seafood, salads and vegetarian fare.

The Robertsons did not say in their announcement whether their decision to close had anything to do with a lawsuit they are facing from the U.S. Department of Labor alleging they improperly compensated 28 servers by distributing some of their tips to dishwashers and cooks.

The suit, filed in March, said the servers missed out on about $47,000 in tips from January 2018 to January 2020.

The Robertsons acknowledged their tip-distribution  practice in social media postings and said they stopped it immediately when they learned they were being investigated for potentially violating the law.

The system was designed “to create an atmosphere of cooperation between the back of the house and front of the house” because “what comes out of the kitchen affects the potential tip of the server as well as the service,” the owners said on Facebook.

They said servers still earned $5 per hour in direct pay under the system (well above minimum wage for servers of $2.13 per hour) and tip income of at least $15 to $25 per hour.

Federal law, however, does not allow restaurants to distribute tips to employees who don’t regularly receive tips, such as cooks and dishwashers, unless servers are paid a wage of at least $7.25 per hour.

The Robertsons said reimbursing the 28 servers, which the suit seeks, wouldn’t be possible because the tip money in question was distributed to other staff, not kept by ownership.

A GoFundMe effort to help the Robertsons with any legal costs resulting from the suit had raised $800 as of Wednesday night.

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4 thoughts on “Trailblazing Irvington restaurant closing after 18 years in business

  1. One of the most delightful and great neighborhood restaurants on the eastside. So sorry to see you leave but hopefully, a new owner will see a fine opportunity. We’ll miss you.

  2. Here’s a situation where I believe the Robertsons were doing a very good thing by including “the back of the house” with tip distribution. Alas, again the fragility of small independent restaurants is seen. The Robertsons were always supportive of my own ventures, and were, and are, outstanding community advocates.