After seven years, chef Greg Hardesty of Recess has announced that he will close the restaurant Feb. 18. The space will be taken over, he said, by chef Neal Brown for Ukiyo, the Japanese restaurant that Brown has had planned for Fountain Square. I sat down with Greg yesterday to talk about his decision.
So what’s happening?
I’ve decided to close Recess. I’m selling all the assets, the space, to Neal Brown, and he is going to open his Japanese restaurant here. That’s pretty much all I know. Obviously, once this is out, Neal’s usually not at a loss for words, so he’ll certainly have some stuff to say, so I don’t want to speak for him.
We’re going to shut down on the 18th. That’ll be our last night.
Why close now? Is it just time?
There’s many factors. I’m 48 years old. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m kind of burnt out. Just the entire industry has changed. It kind of somewhat passed me by. That’s not to say that I couldn’t catch up or keep up if I really wanted to, but at this point I just want to try something new in my life. I love adventure. I love taking chances. Seventeen years ago I moved back from San Francisco and got a friend who had never worked in a restaurant other than a busboy in high school, and we opened a sushi bar in a really bad location. And the rest is obviously history.
I’ve had some great success and some great employees who have moved on, and so it’s just kind of time for me to try something new. I’ve still got 20 years at least to figure to what I want to do when I grow up, so that’s what I plan on doing.
Lots of people in the local restaurant community have worked for you over the years. You’ve said before how proud you are of them.
The list is long, and I’m proud of them all.
My advice to them is enjoy it. Keep a balance, because part of why I’m burnt out is I didn’t keep a very good balance in my life, and I’m taking it back now. Also always remember to mentor along the way. One of the greatest benefits of this business is seeing someone come in off the street, and you get to know them and watch them grow as a person and become successful and just watch them grow. Not just culinarily, but in their own lives. That’s pretty cool because some of these guys, they came in and they didn’t know what they wanted to be. You give them a chance, and it’s pretty cool to watch.
What’s your take on the food scene right now? Are you optimistic? Do you see any problems?
I’m very optimistic. The accolades keep coming. Indianapolis is on the map now for sure. There’s no doubt about that. There is a shortage of quality employees, both front and back of the house. And that kind of goes back to what I was saying. Everybody needs to keep mentoring people, so that the next generation knows what the hell they’re doing.
The big issue that I see is it’s sort of like the dot com thing. There is a bubble. And eventually you’re going to start seeing a few of these restaurants drop off. And I hate to see that happen.
It’s a tough business. Part of this is not just me being burnt out and tired and just wanting to try something new. You know, there is a financial aspect of this. It’s just not working as well as it used to for me. I’ve got one child in college and one going in two years, so it’s just one of those things where I need to find a more viable solution for my own personal financial situation as well. So I just say be cautious, do your homework and work hard as well.
What types of thing do you want to pursue?
I’ll definitely always be connected to food in some way, I’m sure. I still have a passion for food. I would love to help anyone out anytime. If it just advice or if it’s a real tough situation, I could work and help them for a couple of days. I don’t just want to turn my back on the community that supported me for 17 years here in Indianapolis. So that’s definitely an option.
But I also want to pursue something new. Getting into this business 25 years ago, becoming creative and creating stuff from raw materials, I’ve always had a fantasy of doing that with wood and woodworking. So that’s something that I’d love to pursue. I see a lot of parallels: you take a raw piece of wood and turn it into a gorgeous piece of art, really, and you take a gorgeous piece of pork and turn it into a piece of art.
Does anything in particular stick with you from the past seven years here at Recess?
It’s been amazing. When I got to this corner of 49th and College, there wasn’t a whole lot here, and it’s been really fun and rewarding to watch other businesses around me come. Some of them have gone, and a lot of them are still here, and I think a lot of great potential. And it’s kind of neat how the development is — you can really watch it creep down a street. The next one south of here is 46th and I know there’s stuff going in that building. It started at 54th and then 52nd and now it’s 49th and it’s really neat to just watch that thing grow.
Can the city support all the growth, though?
That kind of goes back to that bubble I was talking about. I always refer to it as a pie. There is a pie in this city, and my slice used to be a lot larger than it is now. And that’s going to be the tough part. As independent restaurants – what I’m talking about here is chefs, chef-driven restaurants or front-of-the-house-driven, restaurateur-driven restaurants and not corporate-driven restaurants – we have to continue to keep the quality up, and that goes back to the cooks and everything else. That is the main key. We have to continue to build that pie. We’ve gotta make the pie bigger. We’ve gotta quit dividing the pie up so many times. If we’re going to make more slices, we’ve gotta make the pie bigger. And that’s just the bottom line. Because eventually there’s just not enough.
But even after you close, you’ll still be around, right? You’ve got roots here.
Oh, absolutely. I’ve got a lot of young people who are right in the heart of their careers right now in the city. I’ll actually maybe get to come eat some of their food.
— Jolene Ketzenberger