It often takes Travis Ardisson an hour to get his shopping done at Kopecky’s Piggly Wiggly in Evansville.
He gets bombarded with so many questions: When will you reopen? What beers will you serve? What about the prime rib?
Those questions will be answered next week when the Night Owl Sports Pub and Eatery reopens at its new location, the corner of Main Street and Union Road in Evansville.
The Wednesday, Sept. 5, opening comes exactly 23 months after a fire raged through the former bar, Night Owl Food and Spirits at 19 E. Main St., leaving the 140-year-old building in ruins.
That corner building was the Ardisson family’s heart and soul. But the new 5,000-square-foot facility will bring new opportunities for the family and the city, Travis said.
Putting wind in the sails
Building at a new location was not the original plan for owner Greg Ardisson and sons Travis and Trevor, who manage the restaurant.
The family fought to keep the bar at its old location but had no luck, Greg told The Gazette in November.
“It took the wind out of our sails a bit,” Travis said.
Greg said his mentor, Roger Berg, helped him realize it was time for a fresh start. He bought the new lot from Berg, who sold him the first Night Owl in 1982.
The state fire marshal’s investigation into the fire is ongoing, and there was action in the investigation earlier this week, said Rebecca Ballweg, deputy director of communications and public affairs for the state Department of Justice.
Department officials would not comment on the nature of the investigation.
The Ardisson family found its greatest challenge was working with a blank canvas, Travis said.
The old bar had finite space, which limited the family’s options to grow. Scrolling through an overflowing Pinterest board and lots of visits to other restaurants and bars helped them narrow down what they wanted.
Blending new, old
The new location comes with a new name, Night Owl Sports Pub and Eatery, which shifts attention to the family-friendly atmosphere, Travis said.
One side of the restaurant will feature a sports bar with memorabilia, TVs and games. The other half will feature a family-oriented dining area decorated with Evansville memorabilia.
Travis and Trevor were raised in Evansville, and their dad arrived there when he was 16, Travis said.
Evansville’s history is their history.
Foot traffic to Evansville’s downtown decreased significantly after the Night Owl fire, said Jason Sergeant, community development director.
The new Night Owl will be a “true welcome” to the city’s downtown, he said, drawing people who are driving in on Highway 14 and otherwise would not stop in Evansville.
The city has struggled to attract traffic to the east side of downtown, but that should change with the Night Owl. Evansville has no other restaurant of comparable size, Sergeant said, and the Night Owl is the first new building downtown in 15 years.
The Night Owl accounted for $1.3 million of the $7.8 million invested in new construction and renovation downtown from 2017 to 2018, he said.
The city also has given the business a $1,200 building improvement grant for its outdoor dining patio.
Other downtown projects include an addition to the Eager Free Public Library, refurbishing of a city parking lot and construction of The Centennial, a three-story, mixed-use building that will take the place of the former Night Owl.
The Centennial’s foundation will be finished soon, Sergeant said. The building was supposed to open in early 2019, but it faced construction issues that likely will delay the opening.
A family project
Travis and Trevor began working at the Night Owl as dishwashers when they were kids. Now they look forward to having their own sons visit them at work.
Soft-spoken Trevor lets his brother do most of the talking. But when the restaurant’s menu is mentioned, his face lights up.
Trevor spent time in culinary school and will oversee the kitchen.
The family bought used kitchen equipment when possible, but Trevor said his dad “spent some pennies” on him.
The menu will stick to the classics, including a Friday-night fish fry and Saturday-night ribeye specials that diners have missed over the last two years, Travis said.
New menu items will be introduced monthly, Travis said.
“We never got to drive a new car before,” he said, referring to the new kitchen. “It’s nice.”
The restaurant is a family affair. Everyone pitches in when they can, Travis said.
That will be even more evident in the new, bigger restaurant, which has allowed the Night Owl to expand its family from 12 to 33 employees.
“We would not have gotten through (the fire) without family,” Travis said.