In Memoriam: Matthew Alan Elliott

Matthew Alan Elliott died on Oct. 27.

The

sudden and unexpected death of Matthew Alan Elliott on the early morning of

Oct. 27 rattled through Broad Ripple like an earthquake. Friends, family and

acquaintances felt its tremors in Oklahoma City, Madison, Wisc., New York, Los

Angeles and all throughout the Hoosier State.

That

he had only just turned 43 was tragic in itself. That preliminary findings

suggest he suffered a massive cerebral aneurism jolted his crew of gracefully

aging Gen-Xers as a violent aftershock.

Matt

graduated with the tightest of friends from Broad Ripple High School in 1987,

and the self-dubbed "Old Dog Crew" or "ODC" would make significant impact on

their neighborhood. ODC guys have a hand in brewing at Broad Ripple Brewpub and

running Brugge Brasserie and Twenty Tap. In somewhat rare form, they have

remained close into adulthood, often sojourning up to Ludington, Mich., to camp

and fish.

As a

young man, fresh from attending Indiana University and travels to London and

Prague, Matt wanted to start his own business. In 1998, ODC buddies Kevin Matalucci,

Tim Micheli, Joe Walters and Matt transformed a vacant store on 54th

and College into a thriving neighborhood gathering place. Originally named Northside

News, the newsstand rivaled any big box bookseller in the sheer eclectic

selection of popular and specialty titles. An extensive array of smokes matched

the diverse news offerings in addition to candy and sundries.

When

the ovens at Broad Ripple Pie Company next door went cold, the guys expanded

and set up a sandwich shop in 2004. Now known as the News Café, the little

restaurant offered pressed sandwiches named after the newspapers and

periodicals sold next door. Most notably, the self-proclaimed "Best Cuban in

Town," the Miami Herald Cuban, actually resulted from Matt's diligent

experimentation, perfecting the best mix of authenticity with affordable, fresh

ingredients.

Both

the café and the sandwich were a big hit.

The

menu boasted a wide selection of sandwiches, customized for taste. Customers

could make it a spicy Cuban with Sriracha sauce and pepper jack cheese or opt

for a Rachel (on pumpernickel with Cole slaw and turkey) instead of the crisp

Reuben.

The

hidden treasure might well have been the revolving selection of house made

soups, like the fasolada or vegetarian chili.

But

beyond the menu, the real appeal of the News Café was the proprietor himself.

Tousled red hair topped a round face with bright eyes and that wonderful Van

Dyke mustache.

Matt's

personality fit perfectly with the smart clientele who sauntered in to peruse

McSweeney's and nosh on a stromboli. He was a raconteur who could riff on just

about any topic. "I always knew I was in for a good conversation when I stopped

by Northside News and Matt was there," remarked Mary Margaret Giannini.

Matt's

encyclopedic knowledge was boundless and often surprising even to those who knew

him best: art, cars, Hoosier and Indianapolis history, Prague, you name it. In

the occasions when his knowledge of a topic was scant, Matt would listen and

absorb.

Lisa

Wilmoth, who worked at the News Café, characterized Matt as "our lovable

curmudgeon. His passions ran deep, and he was steadfast in his convictions.

Never one to back down, he was always fair and judicious. He could always take

as well as he gave, with a twinkle in his eyes. He was ornery. He was

supportive and loyal to me, and to so many others."

The

bankruptcy of a magazine distributor and the cessation of distribution to mom

and pops doomed the newsstand side. The guys rolled with the punches, gutting

the original side and renovating it into a dining area.

Sometimes

stubbornly, Matt would respond to sound requests. The Café hosted local bands

and hiphop nights. During the 2009 NFL season, Matt would keep "the shop" open

for Colts night games, serving up his own concoction of Coney dogs. Barack

Obama's historic Inauguration brought the neighborhood crowding into the shop.

Matt

had his own style, way beyond the trademark facial hair. When the News Café

obtained a two-way liquor license, Matt insisted on serving tall pub cans

poured into Ball jars.

Eventually,

the economy and the stresses incumbent on many small businesses led to the

closing of the Café in May 2010. Matt immediately sought out his next endeavor.

Eventually, and recently, he lobbied his buddy Ted Miller to learn the craft of

brewing for Brugge Brasserie. He took to it like a cold Miller High Life.

Kevin

Bacon has nothing on Matt in this town. Here, there are now three degrees

between anyone in Indianapolis and Matt Elliott. Classifying Matt as an only

child is a misnomer. He had hundreds of brothers and sisters who all now mourn

the full life curtailed.

Testifying

to that, the throng that filled the huge tent at the Brickyard Crossing

Pavilion to standing room only on Nov. 1 might well have tallied close to 500.

It's an appropriate number for someone who enjoyed events at the track so

thoroughly that he would often bring friends who had never seen the Greatest

Spectacle in Racing.

The

celebration of his life became a spectacle in and of itself. Indy jazz fixtures

Steve Allee and Rob Dixon welcomed the crowd with music and accompanied a slide

show of his life. His mother, Elaine, his father, Roger, and his "aunt," Joni

Chenoweth, spoke fondly.

Zan

Aufderheide recalled, "No one else could get me to go camping in northern

Michigan in January, which led to an epic trip including Canada and giraffes.

We took great pics, got back to show Elaine, and realized there was no film in

the camera!"

Hip-hop showman, DJ and VJ Rusty Redenbacher freestyled fond and poignant thoughts

and love for his longtime friend.

Actor

Abraham Benrubi, who flew in from L.A., captured Matt particularly well:

"One

thing about Matt is he was a Libra and that means balance. For every fault

there is an equally stellar quality.

"For

example, he was provincial with a deep knowledge of Indianapolis and Indiana,

yet he was also worldly with a vast knowledge of Prague and Eastern Europe,

especially. He was stubborn yet open to coming around to another side if the

argument was strong enough. He was fashionless, yet he had a shit-ton of

clothes. Mostly heaped in piles, but he saved all the coat hangers empty in a

closet.

"Eccentric

and esoteric yet practical and simple. Low brow enough to drink Miller High

Life yet high brow enough to know the intricate distilling methods of various

Caribbean rums, especially Barbancourt. He loved food and restaurants of every

exotic kind, yet he was very picky about what he ate at each one."

A

one-man Urban Spoon, Matt could direct and recommend anyone to the best little

restaurants. As Ted Miller eulogized, Matt knew a little farmer's market where

you could get the best Slovenian nut roll. "I doubt Slovenians in Haughville or

Avon had a favorite Slovenian nut roll."

In

fact, I was honored to speak about Matt at his memorial. "Matt was not my best

friend," I said. "He was our best

friend."

Matt

most effectively coerced me into his various social circles. At the podium of

his memorial, I directed these disparate converging well-wishers to introduce

those sitting next to each other if they were strangers and give that neighbor

a big hug if they were already friends. "Best flash mob ever," I found myself

ad-libbing.

This

week, I have created a new classification of friends on Facebook. I have begun

assembling them into an amalgam with a label reads "Matt's Circle." It's large

to be sure.

And

I sure wouldn't have known any of them if it weren't for Matt. I'm so

grateful to Matt Elliott for that.

I

can think of no better way to honor our friend than to take time and tell your

friends and family how much you love them. Do it often.

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