Growing Up on a Stainless Steel Countertop
For Ross Katz, opportunity knocked the day after he turned 25. After interning at Ram Restaurant and Brewery during college, he had worked his way up to assistant manager of the six-state chain’s three Chicagoland locations. The regional manager had a question for him: “Would you want to move to Indianapolis?” “I don’t know why I would,” Katz replied. “I don’t know what’s out there.”
A promotion to general manager of the downtown Indy location, for one thing. And so Chicago-born Katz became a Hoosier.
That was 2009. Fast forward a couple of years and he was selling software to restaurants. His boss was in town from New York. She had never stepped foot in Indiana and had no clue how to sell to Midwesterners. Katz was beyond frustrated. “Right there over coffee at 9am I just told her, ‘I quit,’” he recalls. “She was stunned because it was in the first hour of a two-day ridealong she was going to do with me.”
Within a month, he began putting together the plan for his now restaurant, Rooster’s Kitchen. Originally he was aiming for Broad Ripple, but negotiations with landlords were not favorable. Then came an unexpected call about a spot on Massachusetts Avenue, he met with the landlords and decided, “This is a great fit.” Done. Rooster’s Kitchen had a home. Born into entrepreneurial spirit Katz says his dad instilled this entrepreneurial spirit in him. “My father always said, ‘Do your own thing. Go out and create your own life.’”
Growing up around food he realized his parents possessed a similar ambition. A true love story, during high school his parents met at a Chicago-style hot dog stand, where the owner gave Katz’s dad a few bucks, winked and told him to take her on a date. Quickly, they became a couple, married and later opened up their own stand, having to sell it once they began having kids. His dad eventually went into food service sales, always wanting to open up another restaurant. Young Katz delivered produce from his dad’s company, sparking the restaurant bug. “My parents joke that I grew up on a stainless steel countertop,” Katz laughs. He has applied his elbow grease to the counters of pizza places in his hometown of Chicago, at Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis and now at his own place on the east end of Massachusetts Avenue.
“We’re kind of that Mass Ave. story, so it works,” he says. “We’re an independent restaurant. I wouldn’t really call us artsy, but we aren’t the typical establishment—we aren’t the burgers-and-fries chain restaurant.” One glance at the menu and this is evident: No burgers. No fries. No chicken. No ranch dressing.
“That’s been a struggle for us because we have to educate the public as well as try to produce a product they’re going to like,” he says. “It’s been interesting. We want to be different and show that you don’t have to fall in line.”
The restaurant has been through two menu revisions since its opening in October 2016 and now includes a $10 lunch. Yet the brisket melt, “Mama’s Brisket,” has always been a crowd favorite—and will always be Katz’s personal favorite. “It’s actually my mom’s recipe,” he says. “So, it’s a touch of home for me.”
888 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis