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Fiddlers Three's history is woven into Shelbyville community

Patrons grab a drink before the start of this year’s SCUFFY dinner at Maxim Events.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

There’s a lot of history within the walls of The Fiddlers Three Restaurant and Pub in Shelbyville.

The clothing attire has changed among patrons, and those walls expanded quickly after originally opening in 1971. But at the root of the restaurant is good food, friendly service and for those whose families have patronized the establishment for years, familiar faces.

Owner Kathy DeMoss remembers when the restaurant, which was originally a Gulf service station and is located at 1415 E. Michigan Road, first opened up.

Back in the 1970s, the men wore suits and the women dressed up as well, she said. The Fiddlers Three used to be open for lunch, and back then employees from the big companies such as Ryobi and PK USA came in the afternoon.

“I can’t tell you how many business deals were made in this building for the companies that exist here in Shelbyville today,” said DeMoss, whose father, William, opened the restaurant with the help of her mother, Jenny. “I mean people used to line up at lunchtime to get in this bar to eat. We were just really unique and different. We had a great staff, and still do.”

When William Dugan bought the building in 1969, he took two years to prepare it for its reopening. The reopening was highly anticipated because of the building’s unique European look with leaded-glass windows and wood-shingled roof.

When it did open, her father sold unique gifts like music boxes and china, and sold delicatessen food that customers took home.

Her father decided to add a wood-burning fireplace that allowed the staff to cook vegetable soup over an open fire in a big iron pot. The fireplace remains there to this day.

Patrons started coming for soup and sandwiches for lunch, and as it grew busier, the family decided to turn its attention exclusively to food, moving away from gifts, she said.

The family added on to the restaurant, building another dining room with a gas fireplace, and a bar in the back.

In November 2007, DeMoss added Maxim Events, a venue that hosts a variety of local events from wedding receptions to corporate dinners. When that opened, the restaurant no longer used two rooms upstairs that previously had been private dining areas that corporations used for parties.

Now with 21 employees including part-time, the restaurant is open 22 hours a week, aside from private parties or special events. It is no longer open for lunch because it struggled to compete with big chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel and Applebee’s during those hours. The staff still receives inquiries asking if The Fiddlers Three is open for lunch, DeMoss said.

“The day of the independent restaurant owner is going to be history, I’m afraid, in not too many years, because we cannot compete with all the television advertising, we cannot compete with the mobility of today’s aged people,” she said. “They drive to Greenwood, they want to make a whole evening of it, and they want to shop, so we cannot compete and carry on with that like the big chains.

“But even now, like with Bob Evans closing, even the chains are struggling,” she said. “There’s a few of them that aren’t, but a lot of them are.”

Dining habits have changed, she said. A “very small percentage” of people don’t worry about how much they spend when dining out, but other people do.

“They’ll eat pizza, they’ll eat fast food, but going to a place like this, they’ll save for a special occasion,” she said.

While The Fiddlers Three is best known for its hand-cut steaks and seafood, the restaurant does have other options like hamburgers, tenderloins and salad. It remains one of the few places remaining that slow roasts prime ribs on Fridays and Saturdays.

DeMoss said she and her husband, Jay, have decided to sell Maxim Events. They intend to continue operating Fiddler’s Three unless an offer they “couldn’t refuse” comes along. In that event, she said they would consider it.

“It’s been just more than we could handle, both financially and with our family,” she said of Maxim.

Her father passed away in 2013 and two brothers died in the past three years, including one earlier this year. Her mother is also 82 years old.

“We’ve had a lot of things change in our family,” she said. “It’s just more than we can keep up with it. It was more of a financial burden than we could continue to carry.”

The restaurant is open from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

“Neither my husband nor myself are ready to retire yet, and we have several good people working here that have been here with us for years that we want to take care of,” she said of their future plans with Fiddlers. “I don’t know. The future’s uncertain, I guess, just to know how it’s going to turn out.”