North Judson, Ind. — Nostalgia won the night as an iconic North Judson business took home first prize in Starke Tank – The 2nd Annual North Judson Business Pitch Competition. Cheryl Smith and her husband purchased The Point Drive In in 2020 and envision returning the restaurant at the intersection of Main Street, Talmer Avenue (State Road 10), and Schricker Avenue (State Road 39) to the destination for ice cream cones, cheeseburgers, and cruise ins fondly remembered by generations of Starke County residents.
Smith and her granddaughter, Daisy Valdez, who manages the restaurant, showcased the improvements they’ve already made in their presentation to the audience and judges during Saturday night’s competition at North Judson-San Pierre High School. They include fresh paint, an expanded menu which features locally sourced beef and produce, Hershey ice cream, and the return and restoration of the iconic two-scoop ice cream cone that stands at the actual point of the parking lot.
They plan to put their $8,000 prize money toward adding a Flavorburst ice cream machine, creating more kitchen space by relocating freezers and refrigerators, and repaving the parking lot.
Smith and Valdez also emphasized community involvement during their presentation. The Point has hosted fundraisers for the town’s splash pad across the street at Norwayne Field, the Starke County Humane Society, and other organizations. The year-round restaurant also provides job opportunities for local youngsters.
The runner-up prize went to family-owned event venue Five Buds Farm. The Allender family lovingly turned a barn on their state-licensed hemp farm into an event venue for their daughter Maddalyn's wedding to Jim Jozaitis. The former tractor shed now features tables, chairs, a bar and a dance floor with beautiful exposed-wood beams and walls.
After the wedding the family decided the refurbished barn is way too pretty to return to life as a tractor shed and opted to open it as a special event venue for weddings, proms, graduation parties, banquets, and corporate retreats. They have a preferred list of local vendors, which are shared with clients. It includes local bakeries, caterers, florists, photographers, and lodging.
The Allender/Jozaitis family plans to add heat and insulation to the barn in order to offer year-round services.
“The money awards are a way to encourage businesses to start or grow in North Judson, If we are able to bring in or expand just one or two businesses per year as a result of this competition, it will go a long way toward the growth and revitalization of North Judson,” said Kirt Verhagen of Verhagen Investments. He and his wife, Elizabeth, partnered with the Starke County Economic Development Foundation to host the competition, with a goal of giving back to Kirt's hometown.
Other participants in Starke Tank were Papa Farm Pizza, which is a wood-fired pizza food truck, and Loving Laughter and Goofy Giggles Daycare. Contestants Redlow Group, Inc. and Grand Central Perk Express withdrew from the competition.
While the judges deliberated, the audience heard from last year's winners, Abrams Studios. Brothers Wes, Derek, David, and Jason Abrams develop video games and sell 3D assets. They debuted their newest game trailer and offered a free PC download of their first game, “Morels The Hunt” to everyone in the audience.
Abrams Studios also donated the door prize, an Oculus Virtual Reality gaming headset, which was won by Debbie Wappel of San Pierre.
Starke County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Lisa Dan notes that Starke Tank would not be possible without the generous support of local sponsors. They include the Town of North Judson, NIPSCO, Kankakee Valley REMC, Kersting's Cycle Center, Verhagen Investments, North Judson-San Pierre Schools, 1st Choice Insurance, North Judson Kiwanis, Osborne Advantage Real Estate, Abrams Studios, The Starke County Chamber of Commerce, Jain Express, LLC, Welcome Mat Real Estate, OTES, Pioneer Florist, North Judson Mechanical, Listing Leaders, LLC, Gentle Touch Grooming, and The Feed Barn.
Judges were Megan Block of First Choice Insurance, Matt Brewer from the North Judson Town Council, and Sandy Kersting Rudd of Kersting's Cycle Center.