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Miracle on Jefferson with Gary Skeel: Enjoy this Decked-out Holiday Pop-up Bar located in Downtown Fort Wayne, IN

Gary Skeel and Kelly Skeel are the owners of Copper Spoon, a fine dining restaurant in Downtown Fort Wayne Indiana. Together they have also created Sidecar, Nightmare Before Miracle, and Miracle on Jefferson located on the patio of the Harrison Building right next to Parkview Field.

Experience the true essence of Christmas at "Miracle on Jefferson," a pop-up bar in downtown Fort Wayne, IN that captures the joy, wonder, and merriment of the holiday season. From the moment you step inside, you will be transported into a Christmas oasis overflowing with decor, extraordinary holiday concoctions, and loads of Christmas cheer that will make your experience truly unforgettable. This seasonal event would not be possible without Gary and Kelly Skeel, owners of Copper Spoon, Sidecar, Nightmare before Miracle, and Miracle on Jefferson.

Gary Skeel was born in Sandusky, Ohio. When Gary described what it was like growing up, he said, "I had a blessed childhood with loving and supportive parents. They pushed me to work hard and to be honest. I couldn't have asked for more. My wife Kelly's story is similar, and that's why we work so well together." After graduating from Oak Harbor High School, Gary moved to Indiana to attend Huntington University (then Huntington College). He would later graduate with a degree in education. Gary's teaching career began within the Huntington school district, but he eventually relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana where he would spend the next decade teaching at Carroll Middle School.

Although Gary enjoyed teaching, he was ready to take his career in a different direction. He had recently married Kelly, and together, they started discussing the idea of opening their own bar and restaurant. When we asked Gary about that time, he said,

"During the latter part of my tenure, I started to get the itch to take my career in a different direction. I had recently been married, and Kelly was equally excited about the idea of opening our own restaurant and bar. She continued to support the idea as we began the entrepreneurial process. After almost two years of planning, we opened up Wine Down (in March 2015.)  A wine-themed location that focused on wine tastings and small plates."

Gary and Kelly Skeel opened their first restaurant, Wine Down in March 2015, but after continuously expanding their menu items and cocktail options they decided to change the name in 2018 to Copper Spoon. Copper Spoon is located off of Jefferson Blvd in Fort Wayne Indiana.

After being in business for a year, Gary and Kelly started thinking of ways to better use their outdoor patio space at the Harrison Building. Together, they purchased and designed an old shipping container to serve food and drinks to their customers and named the business Sidecar located in Fort Wayne, IN. Throughout their first season, Sidecar ran as an extension of the Wine Down kitchen but with limited menu options. The Skeels quickly realized that using the inside kitchen was not working as well as they had planned, so they returned to the drawing board during the off-season. After much thought and consideration, they decided to turn Sidecar into its own restaurant and completely separate it from their inside concept. Today, Sidecar primarily serves all its food and drinks from the container. It has a more tropical appeal both aesthetically and through its menu options.

Now that Sidecar was fully operating throughout the summer, the Skeels continued developing new ideas for Wine Down. So much so that in 2018, they decided to change the restaurant's name to Copper Spoon. When we asked Gary what led them to change the name, he said,

"Over the years our focus shifted (from small plates) to serving a full upscale menu with locally sourced entrees, and (continued to) develop our cocktail bar into what is now a nationally recognized program. After three quick years, the name Wine Down no longer fit what we had developed into. So, after a lot of consideration and input from our staff, we decided on the name Copper Spoon. Although the restaurant is not Kelly's primary job, she is still very involved and helps with the operations. She also led the way with our recent renovations. We wanted to complete the transition to Copper Spoon and continue separating ourselves from our former name by removing a lot of old decor and updating to a more modern industrial feel."

We followed this question up by asking Kelly how she felt about the business. She said,

"The business we've built together is something we are very proud of, and I feel it is a reflection of our strength and perseverance. It's easy to question ourselves and have doubts about becoming entrepreneurs, but then there's a lot of affirmation that comes with knowing your talented team could be anywhere, but they've chosen our business because they believe in what we are doing. I really credit Gary for fostering a workplace that brings out the best in people and encourages them to grow in their careers."
Gary and Kelly Skeel wanted to create better use for their patio space next to the Harrison Building, near Parkview Field, so they decided to purchase an old shipping container and turn it into an extension of their indoor kitchen and named the business Sidecar. After the first season they decided to transiton sidecar into its own business and serve food primerily out of the container instead of through their kitchen. With this new concept the menu items changed to a more casual approach along with providing a tropical aestetic to the container and decor.

With the indoor restaurant's new identity established, bartenders began discussing with Gary and Kelly about bringing a Miracle pop-up bar to Fort Wayne, IN to use the Sidecar patio in the off-season. Although they knew there would be a few challenges with turning the outdoor patio into an enjoyable, festive pop-up bar, the Skeels purchased the franchise and went to work. They got in touch with Mutton Rentals, a tent and event rental company in Northeast Indiana, and they were able to design a tent that could attach to the Sidecar container and fit perfectly on their open patio space. The company also provided heaters for inside the tent so customers would be comfortable even in the middle of winter. In December 2019, Miracle on Jefferson was officially open for business. When we asked Gary what Miracle on Jefferson is today, he said,

"Miracle is part of a global Christmas-themed Cocktail pop-up bar. We were able to bring a Miracle location to downtown Fort Wayne on Jefferson Boulevard. The cocktail recipes and concepts are all part of the Miracle brand. However, each location can look quite a bit different. Our first season, and every year since, we've added more and more decorations trying to create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. I'd say we're somewhere between nostalgic and gaudy, like Christmas just threw up all over. Every time you visit you'll probably spot something different!"

We asked the Skeels if they were nervous about purchasing a franchise company since they've always owned their own restaurant and bar companies. Gary said,

"I can't say I had any worries about joining the Miracle franchise. They allow us a lot of flexibility and basically just provide us with the framework and recipes. There's a web portal where other locations can interact with each other, offering advice with whatever comes our way. One thing that is important to Miracle is that you live up to their expectations. The cocktail recipes are extremely complex, and there are several steps to the creation of each and every drink out there. Most of the bartender's work is done in the kitchen before the guests even arrive. Let alone the building, mixing, and garnishing that all takes place upon your order. So Miracle will send out someone randomly to check on your location and make sure it's top-notch. Needless to say, we continue to meet these expectations and plan to do so for years to come."

Now that the Skeels have discovered how to utilize the Sidecar patio during the winter months, they have decided to bring out the tent early each year by creating their own pop-up concept, "Nightmare before Miracle." The idea for Nightmare came a year after Miracle, and the drink recipes, decorations, and concepts were created entirely by Gary, Kelly, and their staff. When we were talking about Nightmare Before Miracle, Gray told us that although this was entirely their idea, some of the other Miracle franchises have started doing similar Halloween-themed pop-up bars, too!

After the creation of Sidecar in Fort Wayne Indiana Bartenders that worked for Gary and Kelly Skeel brought the idea to them about bringing the Miracle franchise to Fort Wayne to make use of the sidecar patio in the off season. With the help of a tent rental companie in Northeast Indiana they created a tent to attach to the outside of the container and turned the patio into a christmas wonderland experience.

We asked Gary what his hopes are for the future of Miracle on Jefferson, and he said,

"One of the cool things about Miracle is that when we buy our glassware, we are also donating to charity. Built into our price is a donation to charity that usually changes from year to year. Which is why we also try so hard to deter people from stealing our Christmas-themed mugs. They are super cool! But it hurts both us and the charities we donate to. And the glassware is all available for purchase! Every time we actually sell a mug we are donating twice, once to the charity of Miracle's choice, and the other is to our local Community Harvest Food Bank.   My hope for the future of Miracle on Jefferson is that we can continue to grow and, in our growth, also help the community by making larger and larger contributions both locally and beyond."

The creation of Sidecar came out of a need to better utilize the outdoor patio space at Copper Spoon (then Wine Down), but little did the Skeels know that they were creating the stepping stone for a new hot spot destination for Fort Wayne residents and visitors alike. Through their innovative thinking, they have managed to create three unique businesses that not only generate revenue for most of the year but also create a sense of excitement and anticipation among their customers. Gary and Kelly have successfully transformed their business into a destination for unique and immersive experiences. Their ability to navigate the challenges of the bar and restaurant industry is commendable. Their dedication to providing exceptional service and memorable experiences has earned them a loyal customer base and a positive reputation in Fort Wayne. The success of Copper Spoon, Sidecar, and the pop-up bars can be attributed to Gary and Kelly's attention to detail and commitment to quality. The growth and expansion of their business ventures reflect the Skeel's entrepreneurial mindset and willingness to take risks. Their story inspires aspiring business owners, showcasing that anyone can achieve their entrepreneurial dreams with hard work, determination, and a desire to think outside the box.

The following year after the success of Miracle on Jefferson Gary Skeel and Kelly Skeel and the staff of Copper Spoon and Sidecar created the fall pop-up cocktail bar concept, Nightmare Before Miracle, a halloween themed pop up bar that is put on display after the closing of sidecar and before they open Miracle on Jefferson. Now with these three concepts the patio near the Hairrson Building holds as a seasonal destination spot for the majority of the year.

To finish our conversation, we asked Gary and Kelly what advice they would give aspiring entrepreneurs. Gary said,

"Search for advice and talk to people in the industry you're pursuing. It can take a long time to formulate your business plan, and there are resources to help with that too. We first took our early concepts to the Indiana Small Business Development Center. They were able to help take our ideas to the next phase. Expect and know there will be several bumps in the road, and those bumps never seem to happen at a convenient time. So before you start to put all of your time and energy into this new business, make sure you start that journey with a strong trust and support system, at home, with business partners, and any staff you have."

Kelly followed up by saying,

"It takes a lot of support and a lot of sacrifice. You really need people you can lean on because this takes a lot of resources, and we are fortunate enough to have a solid foundation of family and friends who have come to our aid in times of need. There will be many moments when your wants and needs will be secondary, and you have to be at peace with that and do what needs to be done to succeed. Owning a business can be the most stressful and joyful experience all at once, so enjoy the ride and take it in stride."
The Fort Wayne Business Journal had the pleasure of learning the story of Fort Wayne local entrepreneurs Gary and Kelly Skeel, owners of Copper Spoon, Sidecar and pop-up cocktail bars Nightmare Before Miracle and Miracle on Jefferson.

We want to send a huge thank you to Gary and Kelly for taking the time to talk with us, especially during the busy holiday season! We also want to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing the photos you see throughout this article. If you enjoy reading the stories about the entrepreneurs helping shape Fort Wayne one business at a time, sign up for our free monthly newsletter so you're always in the loop about what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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