Courtney Whistler Renovates, Reinvigorates Binkley’s as New Owner
Photographer / Michael Durr
When Courtney Whistler took over as the sole owner of Binkley’s Kitchen & Bar last year, she was ready for whatever challenges might lie ahead. Little did she know that a pandemic would soon force her and many of her colleagues in the industry to adapt, change and get creative with their respective establishments.
“We’ve just had to roll with it and do what we can within the limitations of what’s happened,” she says. “I’m still excited to be here and doing what we’re doing.”
Prior to Binkley’s, which is now a first-generation Mexican, women-owned business, Whistler worked across the street at Ambrosia restaurant for nearly 15 years. Although owning a restaurant wasn’t on her radar early on in her career, Whistler and her husband founded a catering company, Whistler Catering, which they still run to this day, and she’s developed an affinity for the food industry through the years.
“A little while back my husband and I were offered the opportunity to buy a restaurant, and we went through the process but at the last minute it fell through,” Whistler says. “At that point, we figured we would just keep looking and eventually try another one, and Binkley’s happened to come up after a few years and a few tries.”
Whistler adds that the process of purchasing the Binkley’s business happened organically, and the move seemed like a natural next step in her career.
“I don’t even know if the owners necessarily wanted to sell, but we sat down and had multiple conversations and came to an agreement,” she says. “It all fell into place and seemed to work for everyone at the right time.”
Whistler officially became owner on November 18 of last year, and she says she’s tried to bring her restaurant experience, along with some fresh, new energy, to Binkley’s, which locals know is a long-standing fixture of the Broad Ripple scene.
Rather than dwelling on the downsides of the mandated business shutdowns that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, Whistler and her staff eventually saw an opportunity to undertake a few physical improvements to the Binkley’s interior during their newfound downtime inside the establishment.
“Once we had to shut down and we went through a couple weeks of doing carry-out, there was a handful of us that were together basically every day throughout the quarantine,” Whistler says. “It kind of just happened that everybody was handy, whether it was painting, construction, or whatever came up – everyone picked a job and we all did our own in-house renovations.”
Both cosmetic and physical renovations were completed by the staff through the spring and summer months.
“At the room between both sides of the bar, we made an entrance so you can walk through instead of having a wall dividing it,” Whistler says.
The Binkley’s bar area received a complete facelift under Whistler’s direction, including a new granite bar top and new finish for the bar’s wraparound base, as well as new pendant lights.
“We also sanded and repainted all the tables and put a high-gloss finish on the tables outside,” Whistler adds. “We redid the floors in the dining room, and the whole place got repainted. Between the dining room and the bar we put big panes of glass so you can see through everywhere and it all flows a little more now inside the restaurant.”
The maximum capacity at the restaurant remains at approximately 300, but Whistler says the renovations allow for better movement for staff and patrons.
“With that entrance we made, it just makes it easier now for everybody to move throughout the whole place without getting stuck in corners,” she says.
Like many other eateries, the Binkley’s menu was temporarily streamlined due to the pandemic, featuring appetizers like truffle fries and wings, salads, hand-tossed or thin-crust pizza (gluten-free options are available for $2 extra), burgers, sandwiches and entrees such as fish and chips and chicken pesto tortellini. There’s plenty of variety among the side options, including onion rings, fries, asparagus, kettle chips, fruit, roasted potatoes and more.
Whistler says she plans to apply some small changes to the full Binkley’s menu, once she’s able to offer it.
“We’re not going to change the whole menu over a really short period of time, but we are going to start running a lot more specials and upgrade the wine list and drink menu,” Whistler says, adding that Whistler Catering, which specializes in onsite sushi catering, will have an increased presence at Binkley’s in the future.
Whistler was able to retain the majority of her staff despite not being able to offer dine-in services for a while due to the pandemic.
“With the [Paycheck Protection Program] loans, we’re slowly bringing everybody back,” she says. “The beauty of Meridian-Kessler and everything around it is the people here all support us.”
Whistler feels the work she and her staff have done to the restaurant since she became owner will be appreciated by customers old and new.
“There’s still some work to be done, but we’re getting there slowly but surely,” she says.
Nevertheless, as excited as Whistler is about the physical surroundings at Binkley’s, she says it’s the people that make her restaurant stand out in the industry.
“I think what makes us special is the staff that we’ve put together,” she says. “The majority of us have experience of probably 50 years, all combined. We all were trained under the same people, and that helped shape us for where we are now. You can’t really find that kind of help or experience anymore. People know it – the energy changed the second we took it over.”
Binkley’s Kitchen & Bar is located at 5902 North College Avenue in Indianapolis. For more information on hours, the menu, daily drink specials, a reservations page and more, visit binkleyskitchenandbar.com or call 317-722-8888.