Owners of new restaurant Vat and Barrel hope to spur more activity

Every interior element of Vat and Barrel lends to the modern, upscale atmosphere Marc Gebhart and Tom Gray have set out to create in their new venture.

From the sleek and sophisticated curve of the bar to the relaxed vibe lounge complete with a fireplace, it’s a hangout for adults with well-crafted tastes in drinking, dining and conversation.

Located at 212 E. Second St. next to the Mark Dennis CPA office in downtown Seymour, Vat and Barrel will be offering a menu of Indiana crafted beers, wines and spirits and a farm to table menu when it opens in July.

“Our focus is on Indiana products,” Gebhart said.

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Gebhart has installed 16 taps, including two for nitrogen-infused brews. He plans to rotate different styles of beer from different Hoosier breweries so customers can try something new each time they visit.

“We’re going to have 30 or 40 Indiana wines, and we’re going to rely on Indiana distilleries for our spirits,” he said. “In my research, I found 30 distilleries in Indiana, and I can get just about every liquor product that I want, even a tequila-type product that’s made here.”

As far as food goes, Vat and Barrel will offer a menu unlike any other eating establishment in the city using as much fresh, locally sourced food as possible.

The business is sharing a chef right now with Schw√§tzer’s, another new locally owned restaurant that plans to open in downtown Seymour in October.

Former Seymour resident Chelsi Tangman has developed Vat and Barrel’s menu. A formally trained pastry chef, she has worked as a sous chef at Farm Bloomington.

Gebhart said he hopes to be able to share food service workers with local restaurants because he knows it’s difficult for servers and bartenders to get enough hours. He plans to hire around 10 workers. Hours will be 2 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and shortened hours on Sundays.

When it came to finding a location for Vat and Barrel, Gebhart decided to renovate a downtown building he has owned for a decade. It served as a garage and had second-floor living space.

“I started with concrete block walls and a plywood ceiling,” he said. “I built everything in it.”

With a background in art and architecture, he has a passion for making spaces live up to their potential.

“I’ve had as much fun in the last year doing this as hopefully I will running the place,” he said.

Promoting and using local businesses throughout the renovation process was important to Gebhart. He purchased the fireplace from My Hoosier Hearth, used Seymour Decorating Center for paint and wallpaper, Stuckwisch Heating and Air, Jamie Ruddick of Seymour to do the tile work and Kenny Glass for the windows.

Although they are conducting a soft opening July 4, a grand opening will take place later in the month.

They decided to wait until all of the state COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted before opening so they didn’t have to worry about capacity limits.

Due to space constraints, the building seats around 50 people inside comfortably without being too crowded. Gebhart has designed and built a parklet in front of the building as a creative solution to seat more people and to offer a unique outside dining experience. There also are cafe-style tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Gebhart said he hopes people will be patient and understanding as he, Gray and their staff work out any initial kinks.

“We’ve never been in the restaurant business,” Gebhart said. “We’ve always enjoyed beers and wines and used to go to festivals together.”

The two have been friends for a long time.

Gray was very interested in being a part of the business from the beginning.

“I was telling Tom I was going to do it, and he said, ‘Well, I’d love to get involved in that,'” Gebhart said. “I kind of put him off, and we went to another festival someplace and it came up again, and he said, ‘I’m serious. I’d really like to get involved,’ so I said, ‘All right. Let’s do it.”

In the back of his mind, Gebhart thought he would like to own and operate a bar/restaurant, but his initial idea was for a wine bar.

“Seymour just couldn’t handle that,” he said. “We don’t have the population to support that kind of business model.”

So they pursued and were approved for a license to serve beer and wine.

“We thought with beer and wine, that would be enough draw,” Gebhart said. “People will have a choice.”

There was not a threeway license available at the time, but later on, they were able to work with the Indiana Excise Police and found a way to legally serve spirits, too. Spirits, however, won’t be available until August due to a delayed excise hearing because of the pandemic.

“When we added spirits, it became bigger, so there’s something for everybody,” he said.

But there’s a price to having nice things, and Vat and Barrel isn’t a typical bar with cheap drink and bar food.

“We’re not cheap here,” Gebhart said. “You’ve got to pay for this place. We’re offering a higher level of food than what is available here, so it’s going to cost more.”

To start out, they will offer small plate-type foods, appetizers, charcuterie boards, dips, gourmet flat breads, salads and desserts. Later on, if all goes well, Gebhart plans to expand the menu to include more chef special entree options on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I get bored with restaurants,” Gebhart said. “I love to go to restaurants and wineries and bars, but I get bored with their menus. We decided upfront, we’re going to change the menu here, rather than change our audience, so we are attractive to people over and over again because we have a limited audience.”

Unlike restaurants in big cities like Indianapolis that have hundreds of thousands of potential customers, Gebhart said in Seymour, you only have a fraction of that.

“For us, we have the same 20,000 people every week,” he said of Seymour’s population. “You take half of those out for kids and you take another half out for nondrinkers and all of a sudden, you’re down to 4,000 or 5,000 people.”

Gebhart said he wants to give people a place to relax and enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer while engaging in conversation with others.

He also plans to have musicians come in from time to time to perform live acoustic sets. At other times, blues and jazz-type music will play through the sound system, he said.

The goal is to help attract more people and more businesses downtown so Seymour becomes a destination, he said.

“I want the downtown to succeed,” he said.