What a perfectly beautiful second day of fall in Hoosierland. I've been on the run lately (when am I not, you may ask) with work assignments, working on new material for a program about writing devotions, and well, you know, life! This is a reprint from the New Castle Courier-Times about a special section on family food. Today, we're running a special section on family fun. Happy fall everyone!
SULPHUR SPRINGS — Iron Kettle Owner Melinda Grounds knows her customers.
On a Thursday morning she greets a regular, telling him that if he hadn't arrived in the restaurant by 11, she'd be calling to check on him. She knows that another customer is having a birthday over the weekend and privately shares with the visiting reporter that a surprise party — hosted by the diner — in the works. When still another customer calls in a to-go order, Melinda confirms the specifics of his standard order by heart.
It's all pretty much a typical morning in the life of the outgoing business owner who treats, and thinks of, her customers as friends.
"I just like the people, the community," says Grounds of why she does what she does. "That makes a big difference."
A Kennard native and Knightstown High School graduate, Grounds worked at the New Castle Kroger for 12 years, then purchased the restaurant from her aunt, Lida Sullivan at the start of 1992. The restaurant has been a staple in town for approaching six decades. The current owner says when she saw the Iron Kettle as "a good business and you sure don't want to see it go down. It keeps the town going."
Grounds and husband Ron live nearby. Their son Zach lives in Pendleton. Grandchildren are Ziranda, 10, and Boone, 7 months.
Grounds has good things to say about her employees. Tammy Fowler has been a cook and server at Iron Kettle for 20 years, opening up the restaurant at 5:30 a.m. each morning. "She does it all," Grounds says. "She can walk and talk and cook at the same time."
Fowler says of her job, "I just like the people and I guess you can put I really like my boss too."
Employee Dawn Bolden has been at the restaurant for seven years and describes her role as doing "a little bit of everything."
She says of working there, "Everybody feels like family. It's always fun to come to work. Never a dull day."
Lyndsey Doyle has been working in the popular restaurant for a few months and says the business has "great people and great customers. There's never a dull day here. Always lots of conversation."
Jim Hedges is one of many regulars. He lives north of town and is a retired Muncie South High School principal. His favorite dishes are Swiss steak, meatloaf and ribs. Along with the food, his favorite thing about the restaurant are the people.
Topper Painter, a retired farmer, says of the Iron Kettle, "It's just a good country restaurant. (I) come up here every day for lunch. Eat with my buddy here," he says, referring to Hedges.
Grounds said that the restaurant has regulars for each of the three meals a day it serves. Not only do regulars come in to dine, but there are to-go orders on a daily basis that can include farmers or say the Duke plant nearby that might call in a dozen or more orders to go.
Some of the meals the restaurant is known for include Monday's ham and beans day; meatloaf on Wednesdays and hand-breaded grouper fried or grilled on Thursdays and Fridays. On Fridays expect fried chicken and every day, there are homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. Grounds is proud of the homemade Ranch dressing.
And of course, there's plenty of other things on the menu.
But one thing is for sure, according to Grounds, "We don't have anything that's sugar-free or diet."
The restaurant also hosts clubs or groups that want to meet in the private dining room. There's no charge for the meeting space as long as folks order food.
Iron Kettle is located at 103 Meridian St., Sulphur Springs. Hours are 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
Says Grounds, "Believe me if something's going on they call here. They call here for everything."