Last week, Kevin “Woody” Rider opened Divvy (71 W. City Center Dr., Carmel, 317-706-0000), a sleek, small-plate restaurant in Carmel’s Arts & Design District. This isn’t Rider’s first rodeo, though. In 1998, he transformed a historic 1913 Andrew Carnegie library into Woody’s Library Restaurant (40 E. Main St., Carmel, 317-573-4444), an haute Hoosier eatery that is still going strong. Before that, he owned Parcel Pizza, and he opened the rural-gourmet outpost Bonge’s Tavern (9830 W. 280 North, Perkinsville,765-734-1625), a spot famous for its pre-meal tailgating. Divvy—for which Rider has enlisted his wife Richelle (who was chef at Scholar’s Inn for 10 years) to helm the kitchen—lists Thai chili-frizzled frogs legs with creme fraiche, pheasant sausage, and petite buffalo burgers among its small-plates offerings.
Julia Spalding: Did you have any idea Bonge’s would take off the way it did, with people unfolding lawn chairs in the parking lot to wait for a table to open up?
Kevin Rider: I did Bonge’s as a consultant. I opened it, did the concept, trained everybody, ran it for six months, and then left. It was an evolving thing. One of the pastors at my church says if you listen to your wife, she’ll tell you what she wants. It’s just a matter of listening. Your customers will do the same thing. You open with a general idea and a good concept. You tweak it with your customers. If you don’t give people what they want, then somebody else will.
JS: Do you still get out to Perkinsville occasionally?
KR: Yes. And two chefs that used to work at Woody’s work at Bonge’s.
JS: It must feel different to you, opening a restaurant in a brand-new space in the Carmel City Center. Your previous ventures were located in a historic library and an old hardware store.
KR: There are things that were easier about it, and then there are things that are more complicated because you have to start from scratch. The thing about an old building, you are limited in what you can do. So you have to deal with what you have. So that can be hard, but it’s also limited, so you only have so many choices. The owner of the building came to me six years ago and said, “What would you do if I open this building?” I said I would do a small-plates restaurant.
JS: All sharable plates?
KR: We are going to say “small plates” and “sharing plates.” I’m avoiding the word Tapas because half of the people think you’re saying topless, and the other half think you’re doing Spanish. And it’s neither. A lot of people already eat this way. They go to a restaurant and order off of the app menu. This is the way I’ve been eating for 10 years.