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Yats Moves Up Mass Ave, Plans Further Expansion
Cajun-creole queen Regina Vuskovich reopens her beloved spot a couple blocks up the street.
Hallelu, says the hungry downtown congregation: Mass Ave’s own Church of Yaturday Saints has reopened. Regina Vuskovich—wife of Joe, owner of the Yats brand’s original College Avenue location, and a franchiser in her own right—closed her restaurant three and a half months ago after the owner of her space at 659 Massachusetts Ave. opted to reclaim it for the purposes of resurrecting Liberty Street Pub, a sibling to Dorman Street Saloon. The outage was to be temporary. “It was kind of scary; will they remember us?” says Vuskovich, who reopened her doors, albeit one-and-a-half blocks away, on Oct. 15 in the Trail Side on Mass building (885 Massachusetts Ave.; 317-423-0518; yatscajuncreole.com).
“It’s really a blessing,” says Regina. “We have more parking. We’re going to be able to have beer and wine. It’s a brand-new space. The other one was more than 100 years old, and we lived in it hard. A lot of people came in there.”
Vuskovich says that plans are in the works for live jazz, a brunch menu with mimosas and the like, outdoor seating, and more. With the location now open, "it gives us a great opportunity to just roll." Already, without al fresco seating, the space seats 100, with nearly 2,500 practically-sprawling square feet compared to the 1,600 to 1,700 square feet of the restaurants former digs. (Vuskovich is happy to note that the first Yats store, at 5365 N. College Ave., opened in 2011 with 650 square feet to work with before taking over a next-door gallery.) "My big priority was to stay on Mass Avenue," Vuskovich says. "I just couldn't bear the idea of leaving." In light of Kate Bova Drury moving her Flying Cupcake shop down a couple blocks from its current environs, I pose the obvious question to Vuskovich: What is the catalyst for wishing to maintain a Mass Ave address?
"For me, it's about our success," she says. "It means something to me: It's where we started, the second location we had. When I started, Mass Ave wasn't what it is now. I'm grateful to the street, to the community, to our customers who made us a hit in the past 11 years. It's kind of my home."
The changes haven't meant any less than the creamy-sauced meat, seafood, and vegetarian entrees laid over beds of rice that so many patrons have devoured or grown to love over time. Favorites such as the chili-cheese etouffee with crawfish remain, and newer options like the chipotle chicken alexia, introduced about a year ago, are on the menu, with a spicy sauce enveloping chunks of chicken and red peppers.
A number of art pieces now hang at Yats Mass Ave, which should remain a destination for First Friday grub. Vuskovich's store lays across the avenue from R Bistro, with a few shops lining both sides of the revitalized strip including Black Market and Indy Reads Books. Vuskovich hopes to expand on the presence of art: "There's already the artistic flair of the street, and now we have a wall where we can actually support artists, probably sell their work. It makes us more of a part of the scene."
Yats's Hamilton Town Center store opened at the end of September. Vuskovich notes that there are now nine Yats stores—six company-owned and three franchises, for a total of 13 Yats stores sold up to this point. "I'm working a multi-unit deal for Chicago right now," Vuskovich says, in addition to the stores now open in Traders Pointe, Hamilton Town Center, and Columbus, Ind. She says the Chicago deal involves 12 locations but is in early talks. "I think it probably will happen," she says. "It's just a matter of when." A previous Yats location in the Windy City closed after a few months.
A Valparaiso Yats is likely to open in about four weeks, Vuskovich says, and stores are also en route to Fort Wayne and Cincinnati, as well as three-store franchises starting in Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn. Vuskovich notes that those franchisees have found locations and are in the process of signing leases, with openings expected after Jan. 1, 2014, for Nashville and Columbus stores, as well as the Cincy spot.
For now, Vuskovich relishes the Yatisfaction satisfaction of reopening where her heart lays. "The Mass Ave store, that's always kind of been my Yats. And Joe's is the Broad Ripple spot. And then all the other Yats are our Yats." What's more, she all but beams over her success as even more than a store owner: "It's rare to have a woman franchiser, even a woman franchisee. I don't know if there are other women around town who are franchisers. I've sold to two women now—Brittany Franken [and John Sutton] in Hamilton Town Center and to the Nashville owner."