Scott Wise Goes Back to his Roots for a New Burger Bar

Scott Wise Goes Back to his Roots for a New Burger Bar

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Life is a series of problems – the joy comes from overcoming them, learning from them, and turning them into solutions. Anyone who says that life should be about happiness hasn’t been challenging themselves enough. Just how you overcome problems and setbacks can vary – sometimes you create a new path, sometimes you revisit your successes and what came from them, and sometimes you carve out a path based on what you’ve learned. Often, it has to do with getting back to what you know and starting again from there.

In many circles, getting back to what you know is the same things as remembering your roots. Roots are important, something you shouldn’t neglect since they anchor you and allow you to grow. Some people look at this as a euphemism, something to be paid nodding attention and then dismissed – but for entrepreneur Scott Wise, this has become an all-consuming mantra.

After enjoying the growth and expansion of Scotty’s Brewhouses and Thr3e Wise Men Brewing only to see them fail after their sale to a corporate entity, Scott is getting back to his roots in the most literal way possible. Wise has opened Roots Burger Bar and craft beer bar in Muncie, in the exact site of his first Scotty’s Brewhouse.

The original Scotty’s Brewhouse. image credit: Scotty’s

The first Scotty’s was opened at 1700 W. University in Muncie in 1996. Scott Wise was just 22 years old and though he had an idea of what he wanted to do, most of this was an unknown for him. Growth came quickly and by 2001 he opened a second location, this one in Bloomington, staying with the college town locations. More locations followed, with expanding menus, expanding tap lists, and finally spirits.

In an effort to serve his customers with unique beers and move the business in a wider circle, Scott opened Thr3e Wise Men Brewing in a Broad Ripple location in 2011. Supplying all the Scotty’s locations with house made beer was successful and helped the business grow even faster. At its height, Scott Wise chose to sell the company to Due North Management two and a half years ago, assuming the role of president and overseeing the franchise’s endeavors.

Selling seemed to be the smart business decision then, especially since he would have a hand in maintaining them, but then that agreement fell apart. Scott didn’t have the control he thought he would have, and the company went in a different direction so he left just one year into his tenure.

Scott told me that he went through the stages of grief we all know, especially his frustration with how things were moving after the sale and sadness to see what ultimately happened. But now he has found a way to move on and find true closure, and it comes from returning to his roots and looking for a new way to overcome his problems.

Never forget your roots. image credit: Roots Burger Bar

Scott was looking for what he wanted to do “when he grew up,” and he didn’t know if that would be in the restaurant game or elsewhere. Nevertheless, investors came looking for him, they had an opportunity to buy a building that would be good as a restaurant. That building had proven itself as a winning restaurant location before, way – it was 1700 W. University, the site of the first Scotty’s Brewhouse. Just four months ago that second start took wing in the form of Roots Burger Bar.

Scott is learning from his past, but the motto of the new restaurant, “never forget your roots” is less of a mea culpa and more of a gained philosophy for Scott. It’s thank you to his hometown (Yorktown/Muncie) and the people that have supported him. He has kept a lot of the good, including the location and the burger and craft beer roots, and has vowed to stay away from the things that mucked up the waters last time.

Burgers were an important part of the Scotty’s beginning, before the menu expanded exponentially. Roots Burger Bar has returned to a version of those burgers – with the help of Indianapolis consulting chef Craig Baker. It was Baker who suggested the smash burger theme. You know smash burgers, the thinner burgers that you can build as a single, double or triple. Craig even suggested the theme and name, since smash burgers are also returning to their roots, Indiana.

Roots has brought the smashed burger back home to Indiana. image credit: Muncie StarPress

Back in 1948, Allen Schoop of Munster, IN starting making burgers that were thinner and the edges were smashed down to become razor thin. The juices were retained, the browning was greater and gave crisp edges. The trend grew slowly, but food writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote about it in 2012 and it took off. Schoops, Smashburger, Shake Shack, even larger chains have adopted it, as have finer dining outlets.

So the smashed burger comes home to Indiana, just another “returning to its roots” that is taking place. The smaller menu and faster service time is a focus of Roots Burger Bar, as is the return of the burger baskets of the original Scotty’s and the mug club. Scott says the key is to “be better at less,” as a way to keep the customer at the forefront of the experience.

Phil Wills of Dill Street has come on as general manager, and this is also a “back to his roots” move, as Wills was right there in the Village when Scott Wise started it all. Scott worked for Phil when he was learning the restaurant business. Now they are together again.

Now that he has opened Roots, Scott knows it was the right thing to do. A friend commented, “I haven’t seen you smile like this in years.” And another thing that makes Scott smile will play a big role at Roots, craft beer. But in this iteration, there will be more local beer, and fewer total taps. This will keep the beer fresher and have more of an Indiana feel. The day I visited Roots, no fewer than ten of the taps were devoted to Indiana breweries, as well as a couple of the rotators and many of the bottles/cans.

Scott puts what he believes right out there for all to see. image credit: Walter

Will he brew again? Never say never. Scott told me, “I just really love breweries.” When the Thr3e Wise Men brewhouse went up for auction, he yearned to put in a bid. His actual comment to me about it was “Oh, man.” Therefore, it may be that we haven’t see the last of a beer produced under the ownership of Scott Wise, and why not, under Omar Castrellon, Alan Simons, and Keeley Thomlinson they made some really great beers.

However, for now the focus is on small, and a maximal experience. The menu might expand a bit some gourmet burgers (no news on the Shuman Burger, but some might involve peanut butter). Scott doesn’t have plans to grow Roots like he did Scotty’s, either in the menu department or the beer, but on the other hand, there is a move to reproduce Roots in Lafayette – another college town, so I wouldn’t rule brewing out completely.

The sign on the wall says it all, “Change your opinions, keep to your principles. Changes your leaves, keep intact your roots.” By keeping things simple and stressing the customer, Scott hopes to recreate that magic that was Scotty’s. His employees are his strong branches; if they take in what is offered and buy into the concept, then the growth will be robust and everyone will benefit.

If a tree has good roots, if it has planted itself deep and strong in a location, then the growth beneath the surface will foster more growth that people will see. The roots are your family, they’re your home, they’re your confidence and knowledge. With good roots, any endeavor will be strong and will weather any storm. Scott Wise has trimmed back the excess growth, fed the roots, and is now set to let them take hold and be the base for this new growth – the metaphor is complete.


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