BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
East End Grill feels right at home on Main Street, thanks to Purdue grad’s vision.
Upper Main Street in downtown Lafayette wasn’t always known as the hippest part of the block. But things change. And much of the credit must go to the neighborhood’s swankiest eatery, East End Grill.
Located on the north side of Main Street, between 11th and 12th streets, East End occupies a building that was formerly a coffee shop and, prior to that, a health clinic. But you’d never know it — the building has been transformed, and its previous owners would likely not even recognize it. With its exposed ductwork, open ceiling, wood and metal accents, the interior is urban and chic, evocative of an urban loft.
It’s a transformation that was all intentional, says owner Scott Trzaskus. He did a lot of research, looking into the needs and desires of the community.
“We really wanted to bring a more urban environment,” he says. “And hopefully add something to this end of the street. We have some really well-traveled people.”
Trzaskus moved to the area in the late ’80s to attend Purdue University, planning to study civil engineering. “I wanted to build bridges,” he says. But somewhere along the way, he lost interest in construction, while, at the same time, he became fascinated with his work in dining and hospitality as he worked part-time in local restaurants. This, he decided, was where his passion lay. So, armed with a degree in hospitality and tourism management from Purdue, he set off to make his way in the world, working in high-end establishments in Houston, San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and learning everything he could.
He ended up back in the Lafayette area when he and his wife, fellow Purdue alum Erin, decided this was where they wanted to raise their family. And Trzaskus noticed immediately the possibility of opening a new eatery in downtown Lafayette — the business community would embrace it, he felt, as would Purdue.
“I always wanted to do something. I never thought it would be here, but it turns out it was,” he says.
Teaming up with partners Bearing Point Developers — John Nagy, Pat Jarboe and Tim Balensiefer — they chose this spot on Upper Main Street, knowing it had potential.
“We’re really happy to be on this part of the block,” he says
Trzaskus wanted to create a space that was open to all sorts of possibilities — he didn’t want to limit the restaurant to either high-end dining or to sandwiches and beer. Instead, he focused on creating a space that is open to multiple uses — whether it’s just dropping in for drinks and snacks, a special event or burgers with the family.
“It’s got some serious flexibility,” he says. “Whether it be a cheese reception, a wine reception or a business function, we want it to be what the guests want.”
And the space has been designed and configured to allow for this flexibility. The main dining area has standard tables that can be moved around to fit any size party, yet you’ll note they are not terribly close together, allowing for more private conversation space. The bar area has the same sorts of tables but also has a traditional bar area along with high-top tables. An area in the back can be closed off to allow for private space — perfect for either a family reunion or an off-site business gathering, complete with audio-visual hookups and a television that doubles as a screen.
“We didn’t want to do anything that would feel dated in two years,” he says.
The menu is designed around local, fresh ingredients. It’s seasonal; the focus is on what is fresh and full of flavor.
“We really focus on foods when they’re available,” he says, “Everything here is from scratch. Everything is produced in house.”
And proof of this commitment to fresh ingredients? The restaurant has only a refrigerator — no freezer.
“It’s really important for us to eat seasonal foods when they’re at the height of the season and then wait for them to come back next year,” says executive chef Ambarish Lulay. “Why push it? I know I’m going to get good quality when it’s in season.”
Not only are items only served seasonally, but they are procured as locally as possible, from local farms. All steaks are cut in house.
The same commitment applies to the bar menu, as bartender Thomas Gregg has created all signature cocktails.
In the coming months, East End will be expanding this same ideology across the street. Trzaskus and his investors have purchased a space across the street, where construction has begun on a new venture, a multi-use facility. Upstairs will house an event space and outdoor patio; downstairs will feature a casual eatery with counter service — yet the cuisine will be higher end, echoing the sort of menu items that can be found across the street at East End.
“What we’re trying to do is fill all the holes that East End didn’t,” Trzaskus says. “Counter service is the direction people want. We want to make it really easy to grab high-quality food.”
Trzaskus has worked very hard to create an open, welcoming environment. He is a hands-on owner, in the restaurant, paying attention to feedback from his customers.
“One of the things we try to do is listen,” he says. “And I don’t say that lightly.”
Case in point: When the restaurant opened, the noise level was much higher than anticipated. With the open ceiling and exposed ductwork, the acoustics were dreadful — people sitting across from one another could barely engage in conversation.
The acoustics may have been dreadful, but Trzaskus did hear the complaints. Acoustic padding was added to the ceiling, helping the sound.
“You could literally feel the difference,” he says.
The same can be said of the menu: They listen to customer input.
“When it comes to our specials, we play with them,” says Lulay. “And people tell us one way or another. We do our best to listen to what people are saying and respond accordingly.”
As Trzaskus sees his restaurant fill up night after night, watches as he expands across the street, he feels pretty satisfied about what he’s done.
“We want people to feel very comfortable,” he says. “People need to know the story about what we do and why we do it.
“We don’t do anything that’s terribly fancy, but we use high-quality ingredients. We don’t want to be pretentious, but we want to be highly informed.”
Clearly, it’s a recipe for success. Fresh vegetables and sides. Clean cooking. The kitchen is always open — that’s a key part of the integrity that he wants to foster.
“It’s not that hard to do,” Trzaskus says. “It just takes some effort.”
This simple commitment to quality, to service, has proven to work well for his clientele.
“The fun part is when people come in and say you’ve hit both sides, the food and the service,” Trzaskus says.
“I’m really happy here. Hopefully, this place will still feel in time in 10 years.”