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Scene in South Bend: Next Door

| Thursday, April 9, 2015

SceneInSouthBendFinniesND_WEBErin Rice

Rick Ruszkowski tried to come back to the police force after being shot in the line of duty as a South Bend Police Corporal in 2004, but after a few years, he had to give that up due to permanent lingering injuries.

He retired from the force in 2008 and began searching for what to do next. He worked under his cousin, who Ruszkowski said taught him a lot about business, as a facility manager. But he had always wanted to start a bar and grill. And with the help of family and friends, he did. It began in 2011.

“I had never really noticed this building before — it had been vacant for a few years — I happened to drive by and look in the windows,” Ruszkowski said, looking out of his office onto his two-leveled bar and restaurant. “The second I looked in the windows, I said ‘This is it. I’ve got to get this building.’

“So with some investors’ help, I was able to purchase the building and get the bar going. When I walked in, I knew what design I wanted, I knew what vision I wanted for the building. So we started with just friends and family working. Most of them pitched in, and most were unpaid for almost three years. They’re making this happen.”

He called it “Finnies Next Door” or “Finnies ND.” After four years of saving money and attracting generous investors, working hard to convert a bank to a bar and hurdling red tape, Finnies Next Door will have its grand opening Saturday. The bar is Ruszkowski’s dream actualized, he said.

“As a matter of fact my wife and I — we’ve been together over 30 years — we were walking around downtown Indy, and I couldn’t have been maybe 18. We were walking together, and we walked past Rick’s Bar or Rick’s Place or whatever it was down there, something, and I said, ‘That’s my dream to own one one day,’ and sure enough.”

Ruszkowski drew upon the good and bad qualities he experienced while working at bars, both as a civilian and as a police officer working security at local bars. He said he thinks Finnies ND will emphasize all of the positive qualities he has gathered and fill a void in South Bend.

“Well, looking forward, that’s what I want to do,” Ruszkowski said. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn from a lot of people, both bad and good, and I take little bits from each bar that I’ve worked and just try to learn things and see things I’d either like to duplicate or make changes to, things that weren’t working. I’m a social person, so I like to talk to people and get their input, so all throughout the years of doing it, I just felt like I could bring something that people wanted.”

The goal of Finnies ND was to bring all kinds of people together, Ruszkowski said. He added that Finnies ND does not cater to one socioeconomic group or another — it caters to everyone.

“My thought process was, ‘Why should the rich have it all? Why because I’m a working-class guy, why can’t I have a nice clean, upscale environment, without the upscale pricing? Something that I can afford, something that I would be happy going out to. Why do I have to settle for my shoes sticking to the floor when I walk in? I can’t afford to go to [upscale places]. Why can’t people like you and I be able to have that experience without being in an upscale bar?’” Ruszkowski said. “I just thought I could provide something that South Bend needed: a big city feel, without big city prices.”

This idealism, however, did not mean Roszkowski was going to provide a less-than-quality product. He said the only times he “cracks the whip” is for cleanliness, safety and “strict attention to detail.”

“Ninety percent of people do not recognize detail; they won’t come in and know all the little things,” Ruszkowski said. “It’s about those little things. One hundred percent of people recognize lack of detail.”

Born and raised in South Bend, Ruszkowski wanted his bar to reflect both South Bend and Notre Dame. A giant golden dome topped with Mary sits on the main square bar, a giant shamrock with a leprechaun challenges patrons from the wall, and Notre Dame homages and memorabilia are all around.

“I’ve been a Notre Dame fan all my life — and Cubs — and it’s exactly what South Bend is,” Ruszkowski said. “It’s kind of a thing to honor. I am a die-hard Notre Dame fan. I don’t want to hide that, I guess.”

In creating the atmosphere, Ruszkowski said he wants to burst Notre Dame’s bubble and increase involvement in the city but also rid South Bend residents of their preconceived notions that students are “spoiled brats,” born with “silver spoons in their mouths.” With Finnies ND, Ruszkowski said he didn’t want to perpetuate the status quo of separating students and South Bend citizens. He wants them to come together, relax and just have fun all together. The demographic of Finnies ND is “everybody.”

“There’s a divide,” Ruszkowski said. “You have your ‘townies’ and your ‘domers.’ Working in bars and security, I have made some very very close — to this day — friends who were students of Notre Dame. They’re just as hard-working as [South Bend residents]. I have heard both sides, and I kind of want to incorporate both and say we’re not all against Notre Dame. Without Notre Dame, South Bend doesn’t exist. It’s as simple as that. It’s hard for students to break that bubble, but it’s also hard for people in town to get along with students.”

Ruszkowski said he hopes students, blue-collar workers and wealthy business people will all be able to come together and enjoy themselves at Finnies ND, “like a wedding.” A bar where everyone feels at ease. A bar where everyone feels right next door.

“What I did when I designed this place was I wanted an at-home bar feel,” Ruszkowski said. “So when you’re sitting down at our main bar, I want you to feel like you’re at a neighborhood bar — you’re welcome, people know your name. I want that feel at that main bar.

“We have almost 600 capacity, and I think with 600 people here at a time, I can still make them all feel at home,” Ruszkowski said. “That’s the biggest goal. There’s something for everybody.”

Finnies ND’s grand opening will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. on the corner of Main and Wayne.

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