A highly visible commercial building in downtown Nashville that’s been empty for more than a decade will house a new restaurant come summer.
Justin Loveless, owner of Chocolate Moose in Bloomington, and Nick Schultz, owner of Brown County Coffee, will be renting the former Taco Bell/KFC on Van Buren Street.
It will serve barista-style drinks made with Brown County Coffee and Chocolate Moose’s signature ice cream, Loveless said. They also plan to offer quick, simple sandwiches.
“There’s not a whole lot of models to go off of in what we’re trying to do,” Loveless said.
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The Bloomington Chocolate Moose has been operating since 1933, when Cletus May opened it as a full cafe after he lost his job during the Depression.
The original, walk-up ice cream stands still operates seasonally a few blocks west of Indiana University on Walnut Street. In the summer, it’s known for having lines so long that games and other entertainment are provided for customers while they wait.
The Nashville Chocolate Moose store will stay open year-round, because it will have indoor seating as well as a drive-thru, Loveless said.
When Nashville Town Manager/Economic Director Scott Rudd was hired two years ago, one of the first letters he wrote was to the owners of this building, vacant for 13 years, asking what he could do to help “populate” it. KFC/Taco Bell closed “temporarily” during a slow winter in 2002. There are no records of a business license or health inspection for the restaurant in 2003. In the years since, town leaders have repeatedly talked about wanting to see a business move in there and wanting to improve that end of Nashville.
“This is the gateway to our community,” Rudd said. “It doesn’t look like our community. It looks like any other part of the state.”
In 2006, Starbucks was looking into opening there, but there’s no record that the coffee giant ever took the step of appearing before the Nashville Development Review Commission.
However, hearing about Starbucks’ interest had a lasting effect on Schultz. It made him realize the potential of that site, at the busy commuter intersection of state roads 135 and 46.
Loveless looked at several area properties for a Chocolate Moose offshoot, but the KFC/Taco Bell building was the first he found that was already set up for what he needed, he said. So, he approached the owners about leasing it.
Loveless wants to get commuters between Bloomington and Columbus to make Nashville their regular morning coffee stop. Shultz is particularly excited about customers being able to get drive-thru espresso in Brown County; he’ll be custom-building the store’s espresso machine.
Schultz envisions a place where people on their way to work can stop to fill their mug without breaking the bank, or where local families can stop for a treat with the whole baseball team after a summer game.
That vision makes Rudd smile.
“I can already picture people standing in line to get ice cream after they get off the (Salt Creek) trail,” he said.
The vacancy near that “gateway” corner has “long been a huge problem, and to include a new, local coffeehouse is a huge deal for town,” Rudd said.
The next challenge on the town’s end will be making sure there are safe pedestrian pathways for customers to this and other area businesses, he said.
A good fit
About 10 years ago, Schultz got his start roasting coffee as a hobby. It began with a few stories he read on the Internet, and soon, he was buying home roasting machinery.As others got a taste of what he was creating, he found himself with a business-level demand.“So, I decided that I’d go ahead and take the plunge,” he said. He bought his first commercial roasting machine from a friend and fellow roaster in Indianapolis and got to work.
Today, Brown County Coffee has two commercial machines and — as Indiana’s third-largest coffee producer — roasts around a ton of coffee a week, he said.
Brown County Coffee is available in several stores, at a Bloomington farmer’s market and in about 40 restaurants in and near Brown County. But this will be the first coffeehouse with the brand’s name.
Brown County Coffee is already used in Loveless’ ice cream, which is where their professional relationship started.
Having coffee that is ground and roasted right here in Brown County and locally made ice cream will give the store a unique identity, Loveless said.
“I think that our kind of business model just fits well within the Brown County community,” he said.
Loveless projected that the store could employ 20 to 30 people working 15 to 40 hours per week.Renovations are just getting started on the building, so he hesitated to predict an opening date.But if he gets his wish, the store will be ready to serve customers in time for summer, he said.
“As soon as weather turns in spring, I’m going to be looking to open up in some capacity and get the ball rolling,” Loveless said.