FORTVILLE — When Jake Burgess was 8 years old, he cooked hot dogs and served nachos out of a small concession stand.
He moved on to work at Mozzi’s Pizza when he turned 15 and has since worked as a head chef at steakhouses, perfecting his technique and learning the ins and outs of the industry.
Two weeks ago, he opened his own restaurant, FoxGardin Kitchen and Ale, a gastropub at 215 S. Main St. in downtown Fortville.
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Everything prepared in its kitchen is made from scratch with fresh ingredients, said Burgess, who grew up just three blocks from the restaurant property.
“The only thing in my freezer is ice cream,” he said. “If I started doing frozen food or burgers, then I wouldn’t have as much passion. I want to make sure I’m using the best products to make the best meal I can.”
Burgess envisions the FoxGardin as a place not only for residents to eat great food but also to meet and engage with one another.
“The theme of the place is ‘Eat, drink, meet,’” he said. “We want people to put down their phones, stop texting and emailing, and just talk to the people around you.”
The 12-foot oak table in the center of the restaurant, salvaged from a nearby building, is a testament to that vision, he said.
“That’s where we want people to be able to meet each other,” he said. “We can fit two (parties of six) there, and by the end of the meal we want people having a good time and eating off each other’s plates.”
Menu items are varied, such as chili and clam chowder and turkey Reubens and hand-cut filet mignon. The restaurant also features a fully stocked bar, complete with a rotation of local craft beers on tap and an outdoor patio.
Burgess turned to friends and community members for help launching the restaurant.
Toby Shelton, Burgess’ lifetime friend and former college roommate, has partnered with him in the venture. He leaves the cooking to Burgess but has mastered the cocktail, he said.
“Back in college, I’d always make the drinks and he’d make the food,” Shelton said. “We were kind of destined for something like this.”
When the pair saw the property along Main Street available, formerly the Georgetowner Draft House, they seized the opportunity.
“We always said this would be a cool spot,” Burgess recalled. “I like the location, the size, the community.”
He purchased the property in late May and, with the help of friends and family, started serving guests by June 17.
“I worked 18 hours a day for 17 days straight, but it really made this place come to life,” Burgess said.
The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, said Eric Rogers, a chef at the restaurant.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and I’ve been really impressed with how well the opening has gone here,” Rogers said. “It’s all been through word of mouth and Facebook pretty much. A lot of people have been looking for a place with an atmosphere like this.”
Julia Smith, who lives in Fortville during the summer, heard about the grand opening from a friend and wanted to see what it offered.
“I lived here when Fortville had everything,” she said, “and I’m so happy to see it coming back. The food is unbelievably good.”
Ingredients are sourced locally, and the menu changes weekly, Burgess said.
“I picked up some green beans and red potatoes at the farmers market last Thursday and put something on the menu on Friday with those ingredients,” he said.
Nancy Strickland, executive director of the Fortville/McCordsville Area Chamber of Commerce, knew Burgess as a boy and is delighted to see him contributing to the community.
“It’s nice to have a hometown boy come back and make good,” she said. “I think this place is going to lure people in from outside the Fortville area. It’ll be a boom for the economy in town.”
What: FoxGardin Kitchen and Ale
Where: 215 S. Main St., Fortville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday
Information: 317-485-4085, foxgardin.com