Jay Wetzel, Sycamore Class of 1996, is nearly the same age as the pub he and his wife, Chelsey, own. Union Jack in Broad Ripple is one of Indiana’s few Proper English Pubs. The establishment is a (sometimes standing room only) home to regulars taking in televised soccer matches, having a date night, attending a private party, or enjoying a meal with family or friends. Fan favorite fare includes the authentic English-style fish & chips, the battalion tenderloin sandwich, Indy-style deep dish, traditional, and stuffed pizza, as well as the variety of 22 beer handles.
The Sycamore School, Roncalli High School, and University of Miami, Florida graduate did not always aspire to own his own business. “It was a serendipitous situation, and I didn't seek it out; it really came to me. A dear family friend owned the Union Jack and offered us the opportunity to purchase it. When we ultimately made the decision to take the leap, it was about creating our own destiny more than anything,” Jay explains.
Furthermore, he certainly was not in the market for a restaurant. “I was more interested in beer bars when this opportunity came up. I never really thought about the food aspect of things. My buddies and I took a trip each year, and I discovered other cities had a more vibrant beer culture, so I thought Indianapolis needed a good beer bar. Once we decided to buy the Union Jack, I really learned just how insanely involved a restaurant is, and the challenge was a real intriguing one to me.”
The challenge, at this time of uncertainty, has been more than intriguing for the Wetzels. During these past 18 months, due to the pandemic, it has been utterly unprecedented. “My wife and I are trying our hearts out, which is about all anyone can do in this day and age, so we appreciate anyone or any institution taking pride in our efforts.”
“We really had to pivot and flip our business upside down,” Jay relates. “We focused largely on carryout and the food truck taking the food to neighborhoods nearly every day for “contactless" pick up. Everyone worked so hard to get new systems and processes figured out because they were so different from serving everyone in house. In the beginning we were only taking food to people's cars and creating things for people to do at home like "Build Your Own Pizza." We had to be creative to keep business levels up and everyone safe. Additionally, we made a promise to our staff that we would keep them employed as long as possible. Through our own savings rolling into a PPP loan, we are proud to say we did not have to lay off any staff members, and we believe we are a stronger, closer team because of it.”
“We can speak to the level of stress that one carries when being responsible for the livelihoods of 40 other people when seemingly everything else is against you. You just can’t quit, or take a break, or push things off on someone else. You just have no choice but to keep moving forward. This coupled with all of the health decisions that need to be made to keep everyone safe when you’re not a doctor has been an unwelcome challenge.”
Aubrey, who has been a server for almost three years, shares, “Jay and his wife Chelsey work extremely hard as owners and go above and beyond for the employees and the patrons. They are passionate about providing a safe and healthy work environment. Their new business endeavor will be very beneficial for them and everybody long-term.”
This new business endeavor to which she refers is directly across the street. Jay and Chelsey had the opportunity to purchase a building and move their restaurant. “Owning that building with private parking and a patio, which will seat approximately 80 patrons, was a real dream come true and will give us stability that rent does not.”
It is a better long-term situation for a tenured restaurant. Moving so incredibly close to the original location will be key to their continued business success because of Broad Ripple’s foot traffic and established neighborhood. The charm, ambience, and British traditions of the original pub will not be left behind in the move. “It'll be the same Union Jack, same menu, same staff, same everything, just in a different four walls,” Chelsey told the Indy Star in a recent interview.
Jay is accustomed to and obviously thrives on challenges. After looking at spaces in several different communities, in February 2020, the Wetzels signed a lease in downtown Westfield for a second Union Jack location, which Chelsey says always felt right. The opening was delayed until September 2020 due to COVID but is now serving some new suburban appetites as well as some old regulars. “Many of our customers who lived in the Broad Ripple area have moved to the northern suburbs. They told us they visit Broad Ripple just for our pizza a couple times a year but would love something closer to home.”
Thriving nearly 13 years in the food and beverage industry, maintaining the original pub and recently acquiring a more advantageous location, starting a new venue in Westfield, expanding the business to include a food truck for private events, this entrepreneur has not lost sight of the most rewarding aspects of his livelihood. For Jay and Chelsey, bringing people together is what it is all about!
“We have the pleasure of watching people come together for dates, family outings, soccer match watches, you name it. It's a real honor to be a place of comfort where people can enjoy each other's company in a world that is becoming more and more isolated and disconnected from actual human face-to-face connection.”
Union Jack Pub
921 Broad Ripple Avenue
110 South Union Street
Fan favorite fare includes the authentic English-style fish & chips, the battalion tenderloin sandwich, Indy-style deep dish, traditional, and stuffed pizza, as well as the variety of 22 beer handles. Head to Broad Ripple Avenue or to downtown Westfield on the appropriately named Union Street. There you will find more than just good food and drink for your body; you will find comfort for your heart and soul.