WARRENTON — A dozen hungry stomachs stood in line before the doors even opened at 4 p.m. They were all waiting on the same thing: Log Inn’s famous fried chicken and home style sides.
Located in the rural town of Warrenton, Ind., the Log Inn has stood the test of time for a family-owned business. Over the past 53 years, the restaurant’s ownership has been passed down through three generations of the Elpers family. The Log Inn isn’t officially recognized as “the oldest restaurant in Indiana” based off the past half a century though.
The Log Inn actually opened in 1825, originally as a stagecoach stop and trading post for the not yet established town. It has changed owners fourteen times since then, but has always remained a place for food, drink and dance.
As far as history goes, however, the restaurant is most famous for the soon to be 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln stopping there in November of 1844. The original log room where he was during his stay still stands to this day and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Christmas season happens to be the busiest time of year for the Log Inn.
“I bought 10,000 placemats last year and we served about 8,000…in one month,” said co-owner Kathy Holzmeyer, who also works as the head chef in the kitchen.
Kathy, her sister Trish Elpers and her brother Daryl Elpers, who fries the famous chicken with his wife Francie, inherited the restaurant from their parents, Rita and Gene Elpers. Rita, who still works as a hostess and manages the payroll, was passed down the restaurant from her parents, Pete and Victoria Rettig. The Rettig’s purchased the historic business in 1947 and it has been in the family ever since.
Fifty-five employees are currently on the payroll, consisting of a mixture of waitresses, cooks, busboys and salad girls. The small kitchen runs on average with ten workers depending on the night of the week.
Some of the waitresses have worked there for almost three decades, all of which have the similar reasons for staying with the restaurant for so long.
“The money and the customers make me stay,” laughed Julie Curtice, a waitress who is on her 27th year working for the Log Inn, “I love my call tables, I’ve developed some wonderful relationships over the years.”
Former waitress Melanie Tanner, now of Yorktown, Va., remembered her time there fondly.
“It’s been four years since I left Log Inn…I moved back to Virginia and still miss it. I wish I could pick up the restaurant and all the people who work there and bring them with me! Best restaurant I've ever worked in, love the whole feel and atmosphere of the Log Inn,” she reminisced.
Despite these glowing compliments, challenges of working in any food service job still exist at the Log Inn.
“Just dealing with the public and all the different personalities can be difficult,” said Paula Titzer, a 13-year veteran waitress.
This interaction between the waitresses and the customers can be especially demanding on the weekends, when the restaurant is at its busiest. On packed nights, people can sometimes expect up to two-hour wait times before they get their food.
Yet, the extensive lines and waiting on made-to-order food does not seem to affect the decision to dine there.
Customers have different reasons for dining there, but they all circulate back to the food.
“THE CHICKEN! Best ever! Tons of awesome pies! Owners with hearts of gold! That coleslaw is liquid gold! I dipped my chicken in it,” exclaimed Jennifer Chamberlain of Louisville, Ky.
Even as old-fashioned restaurant, the Log Inn still serves a variety of modern appetizers. Diners have the choice to start their meals with onion rings, mozzarella sticks, egg rolls, fried mushrooms and many more fried delights.
There are two options when choosing a main course at the Log Inn: A la Carte or the traditional family style.
A la Carte offers classics like burgers hot off the grill, fries, baked potatoes, salads and individual orders of what is served family style.
To order family style, there must be three or more people in the dining party. The concept of the meal is to pass around the bowls of sides, like a normal dinner at home with the family. Sides include peas, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, German fries and the ever-popular coleslaw.
Log Inn is not famous for its sides though.
The award winning fried chicken draws in nearly everyone who catches its greasy, yet oh so delicious scent. Prepared to order, the chicken has been made with the same secret recipe passed down through three generations.
Other meat options consist of savory roast beef, ham, grilled chicken with or without grilled onions, the southern favorite of chicken livers and gizzards and catfish fillets.
If a customer still manages to have room for dessert, the Log Inn provides nearly every sinfully delectable sweet imaginable.
Pies range from the standard apple all the way to coconut topped heartily with meringue. Not only do they have carrot, German chocolate and cheesecake, but also birthday cakes upon request.
Two full bars provide draught beer, wine and cocktails for those interested in drinks with dinner or dessert.
Although the homemade food seems to attract much of their business, the Elpers family may have more to do with the restaurant’s success than they realize.
“A lot of hours go into maintaining our restaurant, a lot of working together and communicating to get along,” said Kathy.
The Elpers’ way of running the restaurant goes hand in hand with a study published in Harvard Business Review last November discussing how long family owned businesses tend to last.
“Conventional wisdom holds that the unique ownership structure of family businesses gives them a long-term orientation that traditional public firms often lack. But beyond that, little is known about exactly what makes family businesses different,” explained authors Nicolas Kachaner, George Stalk and Alain Bloch.
To find out exactly what is distinct about such family run businesses, they compared almost 150 family businesses to the same amount of similar companies not retained by families.
The results of the study showed that “during good economic times, family-run companies don’t earn as much money as companies with a more dispersed ownership structure. But when the economy slumps, family firms far outshine their peers.”
Harvard Business Review concluded that this distinction was due to the fact that most family businesses consider the company’s money as the family’s money. So just like any family, the company is built with a savings plan and budget in mind.
The Elpers family limits any unnecessary spending, and commit to working full time 11 months out of the year.
The Log Inn closes for a few weeks every January for renovations and will reopen this year on Jan. 30. To make sure seats are available, reservations are taken Tuesday through Thursday for parties of two or more. On weekends reservations are only for parties 12 or more.
Warrenton is a short 12-mile journey north from the city of Evansville. For directions or reservations, call (812) 867-3216 or visit the Log Inn’s website at theloginn.net.