Uptown Helps make Valpo Community Best Place to Live
I think you’ll agree, Valparaiso is a great place to live, work, and play. We love our restaurants, entertainment, and anything that brings friends and family together. We also have a passion for volunteerism and working as a team. Maybe that’s our secret. Working together to make special things happen. For instance, in 1859, a group of Valpo businesses met on Court House Square to create Valpo University. More recently, the Valparaiso Parks wanted to build a kiddy park and asked for volunteers. They had to turn volunteers away. And just recently, the Valpo Restaurant Group held a Christmas event that raised over $31,101 and 3,000 pounds of food for the Hilltop Pantry. Today, you learn how Valpo’s unique culture of working together inspired Uptown East to go from the student to the master and help make Valpo’s community the best place to live!
The Group raised $31,101 in a night, but the miracle started 15 Years earlier
Like an epic movie, our story begins where it ends. It’s December 17th, 2021. The Valpo Restaurant Group created a special night of festivities as a way of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas- with great food, wine, friends, and family. It also included an innovative fundraiser that resulted in what some people are calling a miracle.
Each member of the Valpo Restaurant Group hosted a night of festivities while the community was asked to bring a cash donation or canned goods for the Hilltop Food Pantry. Anyone that brought in a donation was offered a chance to sign a giant Christmas card at the restaurants.
It was the entire community coming together when the rest of the world seemed to be coming apart. By the end of the night, the Valpo Restaurants raised $31,101 and 3,000 pounds of food. But while this might seem like a miracle, it’s the sequence of events that made this magical night possible that many are calling a miracle. But before jumping into this backstory, let’s look at the backstory behind the backstory.
Valpo’s Progress came with pushback…
According to the article, Jon Costas Says Goodbye: A Drive Down Memory Lane in a Jeep, When Costas was first elected, he saw plenty of push-backs. He had big ideas and believed people wanted to follow big ideas. After years of running on cruise control, many people were horrified by big changes. It was common for people to respond to his ideas as if the world was coming to an end. Like many things in life, making a difference came with resistance. The Mayor knew the best solution was to foster Valpo’s passion for working together as a community.
Fortunately, Valpo had businesses and restaurants that believed that the key to Valpo’s success was by making it a great place to live, work and play. Larry Gough from IPA (Investment Property Advisors) and Jim Jano Janesheski had previously worked together in establishing the Valpo Junior Triathlon. As downtown business owners with a vested interest in the community, they discussed ideas for bringing people to Valpo’s downtown. Gough was a developer and Jano was a retailer and promoter. Gough’s IPA had a business model that believed the key to the success of his developments was giving residents the best amenities and endless things to do. While giving his residents the best amenities was something his team could handle, he knew it would take working with other businesses to achieve his goals of offering his residents a community immersed in the culture, entertainment, and endless things to do. You’ll want to remember the name IPA for later.
Making Valpo a great place to live was missing this ingredient…
Mayor Costas’s efforts to improve his City’s infrastructure through leveraging grants were making progress. While the city was making great strides, the Valpo restaurants were offering entertaining experiences, such as international cuisine, outdoor dining, live music, and impeccable service. The only missing ingredient was an event that would attract people to Valparaiso and let them sample Valpo’s food and culture. To achieve this end, Gough and Jano would leverage Valparaiso’s greatest resource, its community, and they knew exactly where to start.
Carlos Rivero came to America when he fell in love with an American and followed her to Valpo. As a Spanish restauranteur, Rivero brought his Mediterranean culture with him. His Don Quijote Restaurant had outdoor dining, live music, and authentic Iberian cuisine. But it was his sense of community that would leave an impact on Valpo’s brand as a great place to live. In Spain, restaurants work together and have events. When Jano approached Rivero about having a grassroots food and music festival on the Court House Lawn, Rivero offered to sponsor it on one condition. The other Restaurants had to be invited to participate. Offering to pay for an event that supported his competition was a game-changer. According to Rivero, people want to live in a community where people support each other. Having all the restaurants working together would enhance our brand as NWI’s best place to live.
Soon, Gough, Jano, Rivero, Paul LoDuca from Pikk’s Tavern, Barb Sexton from Paparazzi (Tommy Bs), George Nissan from Bon Femme, Nicole Bissonette of Bistro 157, and Jill Schrage from Centier Bank had a group working together to plan a series of festivals. They held their meetings at Larry Gough’s IPA office, across the street from Courthouse Square. Ironically, the meetings were held just feet from where the community met 150 years earlier to establish the College.
Word was out…Valpo was a special place for great food, fun, and a great place to live!
The festivals, which people called Jano Fest, started off with humble beginnings. A band performed in front of the Porter County Court House without a stage. The restaurants lined the Court House lawn with tents, grills, burners, and small tables. While people enjoyed samples of each restaurant’s cuisine, the events would raise food and money for Cafe Manna, OE, Spring Valley, and the Parks Foundation by raffling gift certificates to each restaurant. Each festival was unique with a theme worthy of an MLB ballpark. Every aspect of the festivals was grassroots and subsidized by local businesses.
Soon, word got out. People from all over the region were visiting Valparaiso for each festival. The first summer, they had seven festivals. The strategy worked. Valparaiso was building a brand that started attracting restaurants from Lake County and Chicago. Valpo was becoming a destination. After a few years of hosting the Jano Festivals, Valparaiso was getting a reputation as a great place to live and where there is always something to do.
After five years of holding numerous festivals every summer, the City built a permanent structure called the Central Park Amphitheater and started having its own festivals. The Valpo Parks went from the recipient of festivals to the host of them. Soon, Central Park had ice-skating, a pavilion, and indoor facilities. Valpo became a destination for things to do.
Just when I thought I was out….they pull me back in.
The City of Valparaiso took the ball and ran with it. With year-round festivals and events held at Central Park, ice-skating, free movies in the park every week, and virtually something happening every weekend, the group dispersed and focused on running their own businesses.
With Valpo Events running the show, each of the originals was able to focus on their businesses. Larry Gough and IPA developed Uptown East Apartments, Valpo’s first downtown apartments with upscale amenities. They are the apartment towers on the downtown eastside. Its proximity to downtown Valparaiso allows its residents year-round things to do.
Don Quijote, Pikk’s, and Tommy Bs (Paparazzi’s) continued serving their unique experiences and are considered iconic establishments. Pikk’s is positioned across the street from the Central Park Amphitheatre and is considered the best seat in town during a live concert or festival. Carlos, who started alfresco dining in Valpo, raises nearly $50,000 a year to fight hunger and help others in need. These are just a few of the restaurants and businesses that left an impact on Valpo. The number of people that helped create these events was tremendous. They were a community that made a difference.
Today, the community has a new generation of restaurant owners to take the baton. Established as the Valpo Restaurant Group, Carlos Rivero, Paul Loduca, and Jim Jano Janesheski are back at it again. To support sustainability without stress to the businesses and taxpayers, the group turned to member sponsors. Money alone isn’t enough for this community, you need to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the restaurants. The Valpo Restaurants made Uptown East their first sponsor. While Larry Gough now lives out of state where he and IPA are helping develop award-winning communities, he has assigned his Uptown East Apartment manager, Ivan Gressly, to take his seat in working with the Restaurant Group.
Pay it Forward | When the Student becomes the Master
Our epic journey brings us full circle to early last December, with the Valpo Restaurant Group preparing for their Spirit of the Christmas Tree Event. held on December 17th. Typically, every meeting has near-perfect attendance, and with good reason. These restaurant owners truly love and support each other. Plus, meetings always have remarkable food and wine.
Everyone that is part of the Valpo Restaurants Group is invited to the meetings. Restaurant owners, Chefs, and their members/sponsors. One reason why the Valpo Restaurants Group’s events are so successful is that everyone contributes. After discussing plans for the Christmas event, Sophia Kalafatis from Martinis suggested that the group use the Christmas celebration as a fundraiser. Chris Pavlou from Radius agreed, and soon all the members were enthusiastic about creating big plans for fighting hunger. But with a week to plan and every restaurant having Christmas Parties virtually every day, how would they pull it off?
That’s when the students became masters. Uptown East’s (IPA) Manager, Ivan Gressley did what his boss always did when he was in Valpo. He volunteered to take leadership for the community fundraiser. He offered to organize the can drive and have Christmas stockings made that would be handed out to anyone that brought in a bag of food for the pantry. While Ivan handled the food drive, Jim Jano Janesheski (Jano Digital) and Steve Daly (Perma-Green) offered to split responsibilities with the IPA manager. As was the case 15 years earlier, Valpo’s community was working shoulder-to-shoulder with the restaurants to make a difference.
The Miracle that Raised $31,101 in a Single Night
With only a week to plan for it, the Valpo Restaurants, along with Uptown East Apartments, Perma-Green, Jano Digital, and a good friend from New Jersey named Howard Gutenstein, the community pulled off a miracle. Gutenstein lived in Valpo for a while and fell in love with Valpo’s collaborative approach to fighting hunger and pledged up to $10,000 in matching funds. This was Gutensteins strategy for having the community team up with the Restaurants. His view was that working as a team is contagious and his contribution would leave an impact on Valparaiso’s culture. It’s the Valpo way. Like Gough before him, Gutenstein’s heart and support were still in Valpo.
Downtown East | Valpo’s next Great Community
With a long history of supporting Valpo’s community, Larry Gough and his IPA community are developing Valpo’s next great community, called Downtown East. A great community needs quality housing for the next generation of young professionals. Tomorrow’s rockstars want to start their careers in a community that has great restaurants, entertainment, and endless things to do. Having the right apartments in conjunction with the workforce programs means Valpo’s community can attract decent people and secure its future.
Located in East Tower next adjacent to the Uptown East Apartments, Downtown East is getting a facelift to allow more units to accommodate Valpo’s future community leaders.
The best way for a community to avoid running on cruise control and running on fumes is to keep moving forward. With quality apartments like Uptown East, and its sister, Downtown East, our next generation, will continue as a great community with endless things to do.
Written by Jim Jano Janesheski
The Valpo Restaurant Group
IPA’s Uptown East and Downtown East are members of the Valpo Restaurant Group. Its mission is to help new restaurants, work as a community, create cultural events and promote Valparaiso’s Restaurants. Chris Pavlou opened Radius with the support of Rivero. He won the Restaurant of the Year Award (SouthShore Tourism) shortly thereafter and now serves on the Valpo Restaurants Board of Directors, where he helps new restaurants. Danny Wang from Chicago opened Furin Japanese and also serves on the Board. He appreciates the support of a community and believes in paying it forward. The restaurants also expanded beyond the downtown to welcome new members. Martinis’ joined the group and its owners, Louie and Sophie, have become a significant leader in the community, serves on the Valpo Restaurants Board, and are considered by many to be Valpo’s most successful restaurant. Other notable members of the Valpo Restaurants are the Abbey Supper Club, Amici Grill & Pizzeria, Veleros Mexican Cuisine, Smoketown Blues Barbeque, Tommy Bs, Elements, Albanos, and Rudy’s BBQ Shack. Martinis’, Don Quijote and Pikk’s remain on the Valpo Restaurant Board. Together as a community, these restaurants formed an Association called the Valpo Restaurant Group. Member- Sponsors include Perma-Green, Grieger’s Motors, and Jano Digital.
Valparaiso…. the Best Place to Live!