Writer / Janelle Morrison Photos / JJ Kaplan
In 2008, Shari Jenkins opened Noah Grant’s Grill House & Oyster Bar and brought the town of Zionsville a taste of East Coast sophistication with her award-winning menu and charming ambiance that has garnered the loyalty of patrons from around town and beyond.
In 2014, Jenkins opened her second enterprise, Salty Cowboy Tequileria, a Tex-Mex restaurant that has become the “heartbeat” of its block. The family-friendly eatery is a popular destination for fans of tacos, barbecue and an expansive selection of tequila.
Jenkins grew up in Zionsville and has a genuine affinity for her hometown and its business community. After leaving for college, Jenkins returned home but “got out of dodge” and landed in Broad Ripple. She was a middle school teacher for the IPS school system and worked at several area restaurants before deciding it was time to come home to Zionsville with her young son.
Her son’s namesake, Noah Grant’s, was established, and Jenkins’ career as a restaurateur eventually led to her current path of successful ventures and professional growth. Jenkins candidly shared that the road was not always an easy one. The success of her two establishments has come with hard work and incredibly supportive staff members.
“It was a lot of hard work, especially in the beginning,” Jenkins admitted. “Once the staff and I came together, everything else came together, and I wasn’t doing this by myself.”
Not long after the opening of Noah Grant’s, Jenkins had in her mind another venture with completely different offerings than the Cape Cod, surf and turf concept of her first menu. “The idea of it existed three years earlier as an idea and business on paper, but I couldn’t find the right place for it,” Jenkins said. “When the building became available, I knew that it was the right location at the right time.”
After a complete renovation and redefinition of the physical building, a vibrant and fun eatery was created. Between the two restaurants, a resurgence of the town’s nightlife took hold. Once again, the town was “on the map” but now for its diverse selection of restaurants. Jenkins credits Hopwood Cellars Winery, Noble Order Brewing Company and Rosie’s Place for adding to that diversity in addition to all the pre-existing restaurants. The diverse places to eat and enjoy after-hours cocktails has brought people to downtown Zionsville from all over the surrounding areas.
Following the success of Salty Cowboy, Jenkins made the thoughtful decision to expand once again and move Noah Grant’s into the available space inside of the Carter Building, just a stone’s throw from Salty Cowboy. With demand for reservations at Noah Grant’s exceeding the allotted seating capacity, Jenkins decided that it was time to make the move.
“I am not completely reinventing Noah Grant’s,” she emphasized. “To do so would disappoint my customers and my staff, including myself. We will be incorporating a lot of what is at our current location into the new space at the Carter Building. For instance, the chandeliers that hang over the bar will be hanging over the new bar. We will be using similar colors in the interior space – the grays and white scheme – and décor to recreate our existing Cape Cod feel.”
Jenkins mentioned that selecting the new lighting fixtures have been an area of focus and that she is shipping in new “Jellyfish” galvanized steel and rounded-glass chandeliers that range from three feet to five feet in length. These will create an artistic expression of the restaurant’s theme as guests arrive in the main entry.
As part of the overall design, Jenkins and her design team have strategically devised the dining room layout to create personal space between tables and an area that can seat larger parties without partitions or a separate space. The floral carpeting in the Carter Building will be removed and replaced with new flooring that will accent the rest of the East Coast-inspired décor. Jenkins is particularly excited about the bar area that will redefine the space that once was Mr. Carter’s ice cream parlor.
In tribute to some of the charm that Carter installed in the parlor, Jenkins found a way to repurpose the soda fountain, and with assistance from her beer representatives, it will become the draft system for the bar. “I wanted to keep the fountain system for my nostalgia purposes,” Jenkins said. “My son practically lived there when it was the parlor, and I am excited that I can use it for our own system.”
The new space will allow for more seating, both in the dining room and in the bar area, and will allow Noah Grant’s to continue to offer outside seating in front of the building. There will be an expansive oyster raw bar in the bar itself, featuring its own oyster menu similar to the sushi bar menu. The menu will stay 95 percent the same but with additions to the seafood and meat selections. The target re-opening of Noah Grant’s at the new location is scheduled for the summer of 2017. The existing location on First Street will remain open while the renovations in the Carter Building are being completed.
When asked why Jenkins chose to keep Noah Grant’s in Zionsville rather than relocate to another location that may have offered even more space or other amenities, she quickly responded, “This is my hometown, and I love this town. I’m excited to be part of its continuing growth. After the recession, the town went through a lot of changes. We lost some businesses and great people as a result of that. There are plenty of businesses and restaurants that weathered the storm and are a big part of the resurgence that is going on in our downtown. There is a movement to support local, and with the variety of shops and restaurants that we have here, there really is no need to leave Zionsville. People can shop, dine, work and live here.”