Doug Ebey: Exposing a 'Hidden Ego'
People may wonder what goes on there, behind the bright white fence that surrounds the Hidden Ego Event and Recreation (HEER) facility in Kendallville. The 1.3-acre site at the intersection of Ohio Street and State Road 3 (Lima Road) opened three years ago, so it may seem odd that the majority of people enjoying the venue aren’t from Kendallville or Noble County.
Doug Ebey, owner and local entrepreneur, was preparing to begin the third summer season at the venue when he stopped working just long enough to share his story. He hopes more people from across Noble County will enjoy the outdoor venue this summer and discover what so many outlying patrons already know.
“We’re adding two dart boards,” Ebey said, as he shared many of the new develops happening at HEER. “This year we are the official training facility for Special Olympics in Noble County, too.”
Licensed as a sports arena, the outdoor bar at HEER serves up locally brewed beers while the Dig-In Café offers burgers, sandwiches, sides and salads. Surrounding the bar area are picnic tables shaded by umbrellas, a communal fire pit, dart boards, a ping pong table, and plenty of open space for multiple corn hole boards. Adjacent to that are four sand volleyball courts. There is far more to enjoy than beach volleyball, and Ebey’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“We also bring in live music sometimes,” he said, still adding to the list of things all ages can enjoy at HEER. Even though the venue serves alcohol at the bar, there are no restrictions on age to enter, eat, or play.
Though supported by family, friends, and fellow fitness enthusiasts, Ebey was self-motivated to own his own business. A desire to take his future into his own hands led him to develop not one, but two businesses in Noble County. Hidden Ego Fitness, his first venture, has been booming for about four years. The indoor fitness center, located on the north side of Albion’s courthouse square, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Albion is where Ebey grew up, though he currently lives in Fort Wayne.
Ebey, a graduate of Central Noble High School, earned a business degree from the University of St. Francis, where he played football on two national championship runner-up teams. After nearly ten years working in the steel industry, he became disenchanted with the path he was on.
“I realized I could double what I could make pursuing my degree right out of college by working at the steel mill,” Ebey remembered. “They blessed me with a great start to my future. I bought a $50,000 house and a $5,000 vehicle, because I knew I did not want to be there forever.”
Ebey said he received promotions about every nine months at the steel mill, until they stopped. After a couple of years without job advancement, he realized it was time for a change.
“My future was not really in my hands,” Ebey explained.
He also credits his father, Brad, and mother, Teresa, his most influential mentors, for aiding his confidence. His longtime friendships with fellow entrepreneurs Travis Barnes, founder and CEO of Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery in Indianapolis, and Nick Ladig, vice president of sales at Hotel Tango and owner of HT2 in Fort Wayne, also contributed. The three men were high school buddies. Ebey said he enjoys bouncing around ideas with them and hopes his entrepreneurial spirit can inspire others like they have him, and many others, in the region.
“Asking questions has saved me so much money,” Ebey mused. “It’s a combination of people (that helped him succeed), but to me you have to be self-motivated first.” He has been able to expand and open HEER because of the success of his Albion gym.
“Our gym membership has grown to over 500 members over the past two years,” said Ebey. “52% of them are not from Albion. The local industries draw people to us because the workers can work out on their own schedules, before or after their shifts.” Ebey explained his own experiences, through gym memberships at several area facilities, helped him decide what seemed to worked best, avoid what failed, create his own, unique business model.
Word of mouth has been Ebey’s primary marketing strategy. He clearly loves to talk and connect with people, so that model has so far worked well for him. He expects growth at HEER will come in much the same way. He began promoting PEER by talking with members of volleyball teams in northeast Indiana. Ebey has played the sport for about nine years and said many players found sitting around the courts waiting to play could be boring. When that shared sentiment became clear, he decided to do something about it by creating HEER and offering a variety of activities, not just volleyball.
“There was nothing to do,” Ebey said, but sit around and wait to play. Economic developers hear that sentiment from millennials all too often as they explain why they choose to live in Fort Wayne rather than any of the smaller communities where they work. Ebey said the location for HEER was intentional, and a key consideration in his decision-making process.
“I have come to recognize that communities depend on the businesses in their community,” Ebey explained about why he wants to help bring people to Noble County. “This site sits within a 15-mile radius of five neighboring counties.”
HEER is a short 30-minute drive north of Fort Wayne, about 17 miles up the road from another popular gathering place, Country Heritage Winery. The majority of HEER’s patrons currently come from Dekalb County. Allen County is second, followed by Noble County. Ebey has had volleyball league players coming from as far away as Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, too.
“Last year we had two top players from Fort Wayne, one from Louisville, and one from Cincinnati,” Ebey recalled. “They battled it out in a championship match in June, then in July they competed on ESPN. They went on to become the number one and number two teams in the world.”
As the 2019 season was getting underway, Ebey said HEER would offer league play two days a week. Mondays have been booked by Special Olympics of Noble County. The group chose HEER to be their official training facility. Youth volleyball is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ebey has also been booking company picnics, graduation parties, class reunions, and other private events. Local non-profits are also inquiring, and booking the venue, for their fundraising events.
“We would like to grow to provide a venue to more Special Olympics teams, too,” Ebey hinted.
Whether he will choose to move back and live in Noble County remains to be seen. Like so many others working to make Noble County a great place to live, work and play, he believes anything is possible, and is gladly doing his part to better the quality of life here.
Story by Lori Gagen, Marketing Director, Noble County EDC
(Photo of Ebey by Lori Gagen. Other photos contributed.)
Hidden Ego Event & Recreation Facility
550 W Ohio St
Kendallville, IN 46755
(Mailing address: 111 W Jefferson St., Albion, IN 46701)
Doug Ebey, owner, (260) 239-3100 or https://www.hiddenegovball.com/
Hidden Ego Fitness Center
111 W Jefferson St
Albion, IN 46701
Doug Ebey, owner, (260) 239-3100 or https://www.hiddenegofitness.com/
Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Purdue University at Fort Wayne
4312 Hobson Road, Suite B
Fort Wayne, IN 46815
(Mailing Address: Northeast ISBDC, 2101 E Coliseum Blvd, Fort Wayne, IN 46805)
Phone: (260) 481-0500
Fax: (260) 481-0499