Community Series: A look into life during the Pandemic – Jesse Rice

Jesse Rice: Owner/Founder of Black Circle and Loom | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers
Jesse Rice: Owner/Founder of Black Circle and Loom | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers

This past year has seen unprecedented times – I’m not sure any of us could have predicted what was just around the corner. A pandemic was taking hold and changing life as we knew it; not only in the United States but around the World – and in March of 2020 it all stopped.  Restaurants and Bars were told to stay closed. Small businesses closed. Tours were postponed or canceled. Live music venues closed. Theatres went dark with nothing but a ghost light to illuminate the stage. The cheers and laughter fell silent. Fans were told to stay home and be safe.  

But for many of us, we weren’t just fans; this was our lifestyle. This was our living!

From the local band trying to get discovered and bring their message to the masses to the publicist working countless hours trying to get their new act some coverage and recognition. From your favorite headline artist or performer to the many production crew and talented engineers that make it all happen – so that when you as a fan show up at that special event – concert, comedy show, theatre production, or corporate event – you have the most memorable experience ever! From the venue staff, bartenders, caterers, and hospitality to the bus drivers, truck drivers, press (writers/photographers), record stores, and bars; it takes a lot of moving parts to make an event happen. Every night. 24/7….and for the past year, for the most part, it has been shut down.

It is in light of the past year, that I’d like to highlight and support several of these “behind the scenes” industry people! There are so many talented and creative individuals that have had to reinvent themselves and think “outside of the box” to make a living. I mean, let’s be honest, this industry on a good day is not for the faint at heart; It requires long hours and even longer nights. It is time away from loved ones and family. It demands a grueling schedule.  It demands sacrifice and hustle in the light of fulfilling a dream. That is what this series will be about – that industry hustle! The concert photographer. The club owner. The independent record/bookstore owner. The band publicists. The musicians and their road crew. The entrepreneur. Those individuals are still out there, trying to keep the dream alive, trying to survive and make a living.  

Next up in our series, we got in a quick chat with Jesse Rice, Founder and owner of Black Circle Brewery and Performance Venue, who recently opened Loom, a new remote work and meeting space with functional amenities including coin-op laundry, free high-speed internet access along with all the Black Circle adult beverages and non-alcoholic beverages your little heart desires.

When Jesse is not busy with all the working aspects of running two businesses, he added a third business into the mix which is Broadway Advisors. An advisory business serving both personal consumers and small business owners in Indianapolis. All this hard work and hustle just earned Jesse a spot in the 2021 class of Indianapolis Business Journal’s “Forty under 40”, which honors young adults who are making an impact in their communities through work and their volunteer efforts…and this honor couldn’t be more fitting. 

In our conversation, Jesse is going to take a look back over the past year and share with us some of the details surrounding Black Circle and Loom. How the businesses weathered the storm of the past year’s pandemic and his hopes for the future surrounding these Indianapolis establishments.

Digital Beat Magazine:  For our readers, that are not familiar with Black Circle Brewery and Performance Venue, would you tell our readers a little bit about the place? How long have you been in business? What was the original concept for Black Circle? Pre-Pandemic, What did Black Circle offer to someone walking through the door for the first time? Tell us about…

The Brewery and Menu – Do you work with other local businesses?

Black Circle Brewery | Elena Ruz Cuban Cuisine | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers
Black Circle Brewery | Elena Ruz Cuban Cuisine | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers

Jesse Rice:  Black Circle as a company produces beverages, but our main location is strictly a performance and event venue. Inside the taproom, pre-pandemic we would regularly host up to 200 people for shows. The pandemic required some innovation and we built a stage outside on the lawn which we affectionately named Beer Creek.” (*Side Note: For those not from the area, the big outdoor music venue in Noblesville, IN. now known as Ruoff Home Mortgage Center, when originally opened was named Deer Creek Music Center. To this day a lot of locals still refer to it as “Deer Creek“).  It is a point of pride that we collaborate with other businesses and organizations. A friend of mine owned a catering company called Elena Ruz and when we decided to open Black Circle we asked him to open next to us to serve our customers. There is no business ownership affiliation, but that was the start of many local connections in the community that have helped bolster the growth of our company. 

DBM:  The Button Mashers – What is it? And what does it have to do with all the Pinball machines? 

JR:  Our beer club is called Button Mashers which is a play on both our love of pinball games and the mashing in of grain for beer production. We own all of our pinball games (of which there are currently 10 between the two locations). I used to have 4 games from the 1970s era but they were difficult to maintain. Now, most of the collection is early 1990s era or brand new Stern games. 

DBM: So tell us about Drag Queens; Bingo, Performances, How did that come about?

JR:   Every Tuesday we host Drag Bingo or a Drag Open Stage event. I met Kendra Stone (host) when I picked up a second job to learn the craft beer ropes at HopCat. I was part of the inaugural crew that opened it in 2014. Kendra reached out to me years later to ask if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance to diversify our content and customer base. It is our longest-running and best-performing weekly event by a long shot. 

DBM:  So, Black Circle is also a performance venue. What other kind of events do you have other than what you mentioned above?

JR:  We are most known for our metal shows which defined us in the early years, but with the addition of Drag Bingo, The Sunday Show (stand up), Black Circle Market, SoBro Farmer’s Market, Strange Trivia, BYOV (vinyl night with Luna Music), Terror Thursdays (movie night) and an array of other musical guests we have become a spot for just about anything. I am most pleased with our alignment with PRN (Punk Rock Night) which holds monthly events at Black Circle when they aren’t at the famous Melody Inn

DBM: By April 2020, live music venues and restaurants were closed down, businesses were trying to figure out how to move forward and unsure how long it all may last. It was time to start thinking outside the box! As grim as it all seemed at the time, you, as a business owner, were able to find some silver linings to what appeared to be a long, cloudy storm. Let’s first talk about the changes at Black Circle. It is my understanding “Beer Creek” was an idea for the future that became a reality during the Pandemic. Can you tell our readers about “Beer Creek”? 

JR:  The Nickel Plate Trail is slated to be installed adjacent to our lawn area in the future. Two months before the pandemic, I sat down with the building owners to discuss our use of the lawn for future shows and a beer garden area pending the development of the trail. The pandemic necessitated that we hasten those plans, and “Beer Creek” saved shows for us last year. It also allowed us to let minors be present at shows/events (but I will leave it to the parents to determine if it is “family-friendly”; I would suggest that some of the content be screened depending on the age and temperament of your children but that’s up to the parent.) Minors do not have access to the expensive and easily broken pinball games in the bar area. Of course, the restaurant next door is family-friendly and the outside area is as well. 

Additionally, we moved to canning and offered delivery of our beer directly to the homes of our customers. We enticed them to buy from us by offering some of their favorite performers would deliver it to their door. This accomplished several things: First, I was able to keep my staff busy and product flowing for both revenue and mental health stability. Second, it kept our customers engaged and on our side. Last, it kept our performance partners engaged and employed as well. 

DBM:  With the creation of “Beer Creek”, Do you work with other local venues that may not have the outdoor space to create a social distance environment? Tell us about Stranger Attractions.

JR:  As I mentioned, we worked with PRN last year to host benefits for the Melody Inn. When indoor capacity made it impossible to do shows, we asked if we could host some shows for them to keep money flowing. I think we did just under $10,000 with the “Mel-Aid: Melody Inn Benefit” last year which was mostly thanks to PRN.  Stranger Attractions is a promotional company that is separate from Black Circle. Dustin Boltjes runs Stranger Attractions and though most of the shows are here at Black Circle, SA promotes shows all over town. Stranger Attractions was formerly known as Dahlia Presents and was purchased in the spring of 2019. 

DBM: Let’s talk about Loom! What is Loom and where is it located? 

JR:  I ran out of space at Black Circle and decided to look for a larger venue. While I was doing that I came across the building at 1901 E 46th St. – just three blocks away from Black Circle which is now the home of Loom. It doesn’t work for live music because it’s too close to residential and too small inside BUT I was able to move production to this space and open up a little more room at Black Circle for seating and guest accommodation. Of course, all of this was hatched before the pandemic and I sunk a huge sum into that project which opened the same week as the shut down in March 2020. 

DBM:  Does it offer food and beverages as well? 

Log the Food Trailer | Loom | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers
Log the Food Trailer | Loom | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers

JR:  Much like Black Circle, Loom does not have a kitchen but we partnered with a local business for food. Currently, the Log Food Truck is on-site every day that Loom is open and serves Hoosier favorites like tenderloins made to order.  Loom is our brewery now, so yes, we have a two-way permit for beverages and it has a rotating draft list, non-alcoholic “mocktails” and domestic selections. Loom’s main function is a “work from here” space which includes amenities like professional coin-op laundry, high-speed internet access and printing services available to the public. 

DBM: Interesting murals around both BC and Loom both inside and outside of the building. Can you tell us about the Art? Local artist? 

JR:  The art is all done by local artist Matthew Aaron. He just asked me what I thought Loom meant. When I explained it was purposefully ambiguous he just did whatever he wanted and transformed the space. 

DBM:  You took a chance and opened this business in the height of a Pandemic, looking back, what were the positives in that business decision? Any downsides?

JR:  The downsides of opening a business before the pandemic are obvious. The upsides many business owners could not see; so they unfortunately folded. We had lots of free time and focused on what systems and processes we could improve upon. We finished some construction and remodel projects and we are going to come out the other side of this thing together as a result of staying busy! Not to mention we had immense support from the community. 

DBM:  What is Indiana Venue Alliance and how have they assisted in the past year? Do you feel as a business owner you had assistance/guidance from your local government officials? What about at the Federal level? 

JR:  Indiana Venue Alliance (IIVA) is a local chapter of a venue alliance that many states set up to mirror National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) which is the national organization. At first, I felt we were left out of the conversation and that’s because we were. But, with communication via Musical Family Tree, I was able to establish a rapport with IIVA and became a member. They established a SLACK account for members to keep up to date on the SVO grant process which was very helpful and we received some small local grants from MFT as well.  Federal level has been a complete nightmare and continues to be. It has been mismanaged, overengineered, and a complete failure. People will write books about how bad this was handled. 

DBM:  We all know it was a tough past year for the restaurant industry (Owners/Bartenders/Staff).  Would you be willing to share with us how you helped out your staff and crew during difficult times? Do you feel you’ve had support from the Community?

JR:  I think a lot of what I did I already discussed above. More importantly, though, I was able to keep the staff busy and paid them out of my pocket so I wouldn’t lose anyone. I am proud to say that with the exception of one person that moved away I was able to keep my entire staff.  We had a huge amount of support from our community but even with that BC/Loom had a 6 figure loss in 2020. It’s worth saying again that the federal assistance is now 6 months behind schedule and their failures threaten to ruin hundreds of businesses. 

Loom | Artwork by Matthew Aaron | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers
Loom | Artwork by Matthew Aaron | Photo by: ©Pix Meyers

DBM: Fast forward to today. It appears there is light at the end of the storm and the clouds are starting to break…We are opening back up as a society and being told we can start getting back to “normal”. After the past year, do you think as a business owner “normal” has the same meaning as it did pre-pandemic? 

JR:  I think we have experienced a collective trauma but not everyone in our community deals with trauma in the same ways. For some people there will never be a normal again. For others, nothing changed to begin with and the rest fall somewhere in between those poles.  The most difficult part of navigating the pandemic was managing the optics of remaining open. A lot of people that don’t know anything screamed “people over profits” from the rooftops, not realizing that there would never be any profits last year. Stop and think about the motives of someone that stays open knowing there is no profit to be had.  As a business owner, I have to be ready to have some people think negatively about us. As long as I know I am taking care of the team and making prudent choices with regard to our health, mental health, and sustainability, managing trolls is just another part of the business.

DBM: Reflecting back, do you feel there were any positives that came out of the past year?

JR:  Almost everything that came out of last year will end up positive if we can get the funding we need to make up for the extreme losses we took in 2020. We came together as a team and community and are poised to knock it out of the park in 2021. We now have two locations, more room, better equipment, and stronger community support. 

DBM:  Lastly, are you willing to share any future plans or ideas that may be coming up the pipeline for Black Circle and Loom? 

JR: We are currently working on a permit to begin distilling at Loom so we can offer spirits at our locations as well. I’m particularly excited about hiring a full-time professional sound engineer and an intern this year. It’s not only an opportunity for me to learn more but an opportunity for me to focus on other aspects of the business as well. 

Thank you Jessie for taking the time to chat with us to discuss all your business adventures and obstacles from the past year. From all of us at Digital Beat Magazine we wish you the most success in all your endeavors! If you’d like to learn more about Jessie and the team at Black Circle and/or Loom, you can find them on all of your favorite social media platforms.