“I’d compare us to a St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, you know, from Carmel, Westfield, Downtown [Indy]. … You can feel comfortable enough to come in and get shrimp cocktail, lobster tails, crab legs and prime rib, but wear your jeans and your sweatshirt. It’s a very laid back – we’re not a strip mall type atmosphere. The nostalgia in that place is second to none, I guess.”
Mike Hartzler purchased The Fiddlers Three Restaurant and Pub because he grew up eating there.
“I grew up in Rushville, and my father was actually in the food service business, and the company that he worked for sold a lot of the food to The Fiddlers Three, so I’ve been eating there at that restaurant basically my whole life,” he said.
Hartzler now lives in Franklin, so he often uses the restaurant as a half-way point in between Rushville and Franklin where he can meet up and eat with family.
“I originally found out it was for sale because there was a for sale sign in front of it, and that was a couple of years ago,” he said. “I inquired about it and we couldn’t come up with a deal that made sense for everybody so I moved on.”
After looking at other businesses in Shelbyville, a couple “prominent business people” in Shelbyville suggested he take another look at The Fiddlers Three.
“We were able to come up with a deal that made sense and worked for everybody and it went through,” he said. Hartzler took over on Jan. 1.
In the month he’s owned the restaurant, he promoted the lead hostess to General Manager, and the Line Cook to Head Chef, and the three of them have brainstormed together to come up with nine new menu items.
“The reception has been great,” he said. “The local regulars that we have have been very welcoming to me, receptive. I’ve enjoyed it a whole lot, just conversations. I’ve also been able to attract some more out of town people mainly because of my Facebook presence and my other businesses and contacts.”
Last weekend, he had a group of 14 customers come from Cincinnati. He attributes this to the new food.
“We haven’t taken anything off the menu, but we’ve added some really neat, new, fresh ideas onto the menu,” he said.
Hartzler worked in the golf business prior to flooring, where he spent a lot of time in Florida – and this is where the new food ideas came from.
“Tuesday last week we did a big test-kitchen where we had a bunch of people in there and I threw out ideas and we made a bunch of different stuff. Some of it was good, some were bad, and we re-made a bunch of things, and after we get past Valentine’s Day weekend, some of those things will appear on the menu.”
“I spent a lot of time in Southern Florida, particularly Key Largo,” he said. “So a lot of the new menu items that people are going to see are some south Miami, Cuban, Jamaican type things that I’ve enjoyed eating while I was down there.”
This past weekend they gave out Shrimp Ceviche as a sampler appetizer, which received nothing but positive feedback, he said.
“Everyone loved it, so that’s going on the menu as an appetizer starting [Tuesday],” he said. “It’s a South Miami, Cuban-type dish. It’s got shrimp cocktail, avocado, corn, celery, green, red, yellow bell peppers, all marinated in lemon and lime juice, served with chips, and served cold. It’s not a fried appetizer.”
“I think we gave away 30 samples of it and not a single person said this wouldn’t be a great success,” he said. “I brought the rest of it home with me and ate it all day on Wednesday. It’s really, really good.”
And all the food is made in-house, he said.
“We’re buying calamari and breading it in-house,” he said. “It’s scratch-made-type things, that we’re making in house, instead of buying frozen, pre-made, mass-produced stuff.”
In fact, for Valentine’s Day weekend (which The Fiddlers Three is booked for), Hartzler ordered lobsters from Maine.
“It’s a whole, claw on, head, tail, everything,” he said. “We’re having them shipped in from Maine. They’re leaving late Thursday night, will be delivered to us Friday morning, and cooking those Friday and Saturday night for Valentine’s Day.”
The Fiddlers Three was built in the early fifties, but opened as a restaurant in the early seventies. Hartzler said prior to being a restaurant it was a multitude of shops.
“I was dealing with a water heater issue, and I walked into where the water heater was and I was like ‘why does this look like a bathroom’ and they were like ‘oh, there used to be a gas station here’ and I was like ‘when was this place a gas station?’ and nobody really knew,” he said. “It’s been an antique store, a candy store, a gas station, but I believe in 1974 it was converted to the full-scale The Fiddlers Three restaurant – which was the year I was born.”
Hartzler plans to utilize the upstairs portion of the building, which he said hasn’t been used since the ‘80s. It’s not open yet, but will be soon, he said.
“I’ve reopened and have the ability to take reservations for the upstairs dining room,” he said. “We have a dumbwaiter. It is an elevator that you can put food trays in. So to elevate the food, and then the server has to run upstairs and get the food out of there. It used to be done manually with a pulley system, but now we have an electric motor on it. It hadn’t been used since 1980, and I fixed it.”
He also plans to revamp the outdoor patio.
“We are custom-building an outdoor fire pit,” he said. “I just signed the contract with the guy who’s building it to do a three by five foot fire pit with seating around it and granite countertops. We have seating on the outdoor patio that will facilitate, depending on the COVID restrictions somewhere between 60-80 people.”
“We’re looking at doing live, acoustic music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” he said.
Hartzler is highly recommending anyone interested in eating at The Fiddlers Three make reservations because of how busy the place has been in the last few weekends. One can make a reservation by calling (317) 392-4371.
The Fiddlers Three will also, for the first time ever, be open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I’ve invested a lot of money, upgrades and fixes, for hopes of future expansion and more business,” he said.