The River District of Elkhart, Ind., with its growing business, restaurant and housing sectors, is fast becoming a modern urban center replete with the best of city living.
And poised above the changing cityscape with views of the St. Joseph River is The Jackson Rooftop, a full-service outdoor bar and patio concept leading the neighborhood revitalization with its vision of city dining and cocktail experiences.
“The River District is undergoing a revitalization to bring big city quality architecture, office space, restaurants, nightlife and luxury condos to Elkhart,” says Matthew Soutra, vice president of Navarre Hospitality Group, owner of The Jackson Rooftop. “Our restaurant is on the roof of the first building to open during a significant revitalization of the riverfront. Our goal is to bring a Chicago, Boston or New York hospitality experience to the The Jackson Rooftop, which is a really unique concept for this market.”
And the customers have welcomed the concept with glowing reviews on Yelp and Google, as well as winning the South Bend Tribune’s Official Community Choice Award for 2023.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Matthew Soutra discusses the quest to bring big-city dining and nightlife to Elk Hart, Ind.
Boxerbrand: How did The Jackson Rooftop get its start?
Soutra: We’re part of Navarre Hospitality Group, and The Jackson is our newest concept, which we opened in August last year, and is part of a revitalization effort for a section of Elkhart known as the River District. We’re the brainchild of Kurt Janowsky, who grew up in this area and owns Navarre Hospitality, and wanted to be involved with the revitalization of the area.
The idea is to build condos, townhouses, businesses and to instill a nightlife in the River District. And The Jackson Rooftop is a big part of that transformation.
Boxerbrand: How does The Jackson Rooftop fit into the plan?
Soutra: We’ve provided an amazing venue, with soft seating around fire pits, and panoramic views, for customers to enjoy unique cocktails and great food in a communal dining experience. The idea is to be the place where people want to come to hang out with their friends, and our menu, even our sandwiches, are meant to be shared. It’s a place designed to bring people together in a relaxed atmosphere that isn’t stuffy or pretentious.
We have a unique beverage program and a fantastic bar manager who is playing off the cocktail culture by using tons of fresh ingredients, unique ice and glassware and smoke to create amazing cocktails efficiently. And our sharables include an amazing selection of flatbreads elevated with fantastic local ingredients. A simple ingredient like our house-made thick cut bacon with a really nice spice rub is very simple, and yet perfect. So we’ll get groups of friends who come in, order one of everything, and sit and relax sipping our cocktails and taking in the view.
Boxerbrand: How do you compete for staff?
Soutra: When we hire our goal is to compete with the largest employers, like the RV companies and Notre Dame. There’s a tendency in hospitality to tell people they can make a career of it, but then not provide the resources. We’re putting our money where our mouth is with our health, dental and vision plans, and we’re just starting a pilot program to help people build equity to find homes. This is a new idea, so we haven’t worked out all the details. But the idea is to help secure houses that staff can rent, while at the same time they build equity to eventually own their home.
Boxerbrand: What makes you optimistic about the future of hospitality?
Soutra: I’m aware that some macro-indicators indicate that dining out has cooled off a little. I think, based on conversations with consumers, that there is a strong desire to eat out more. It seems there’s still a pent-up demand out there because people want, above all, to have a human connection. This is why I think that hospitality is not going away. And at The Jackson Rooftop and other Navarre Hospitality concepts, we’re providing a great experience that’s unique, warm and authentic. — The Jackson Rooftop uses Boxerbrand’s Capri menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!