Source: News-Journal, September 5, 2012
Mr. Dave's Celebrating 50 Years of Tenderloin
By Shaun Tilghman, News Editor
The Clapp family name has been synonymous with breaded tenderloins in Indiana for more than half a century, and during the week of Sept. 10-15, Mr. Dave's will celebrate 50 years as a mainstay restaurant in North Manchester.
Dave and Shirley Clapp opened Dave's Drive-In on the west edge of North Manchester (at the current Hardee's location) in the spring of 1962. However, the small drive-in restaurant, which featured car hop service, was not the first endeavor in the food service industry for either of the Clapps. Dave has been around the restaurant business since boyhood, and Shirley got her first restaurant experience when she was in high school.
Dave said his father, Kenny, first opened a drive-in near their home in 1948. "He took an old chicken coop out to the highway, put awnings on it, and started a drive-in," he added.
"My father had a lot of drive and he was an excellent [restauranteur]," Dave continued. "He did anything he could to teach his children good work ethics. We were also learning to sell, or to promote things, at a very early age."
Around the time Dave was 14 or 15 years old, his father moved the family to a farm in Huntington. They tried farming for about two years before moving back to South Whitley where his father built a new restaurant, Kenny's Drive-In.
According to Dave, Kenny's Drive-In and Johnny's Drive-In (Huntington) were probably two of the first car hop serviced drive-ins in Northeast Indiana. Shirley began working as a car hop at Johnny's Drive-In around 1950-51.
While working in his father's restaurant, Dave learned a lot of valuable skills from Kenny, who made his own tenderloins. But after observing the demands the restaurant business put on his father firsthand, Dave decide to become an insurance salesman--he had two uncles that were very successful in the insurance business.
Dave and Shirley married in 1955, and he continued his work in insurance for several years, but they soon came to the realization that they were not making enough to support a family.
"[Insurance] is a tough game, particularly when you're on straight commission," Dave explained. "It came time that I knew I needed to do something to make more money."
In 1961, Dave began working as a grill cook at his father's drive-in again, and Shirley even did some waitressing there. Then, one evening in February of 1962, Dave's uncle, Gene Snyder, told him that the owner of the small drive-in on the west edge of North Manchester wasn't going to open in the spring.
"Gene said, 'Dave, I think you could make a go of it,'" Dave added. "I knew it would be a challenge, but my dad raised me to be a restaurant guy. I had no savings, so my dad helped me get a bank loan to start the business.
"The day I opened I didn't have the money for the cash register. A good friend from South Whitley gave me $75 for the cash register change. It was one of the many challenges of starting a new business in a town where I knew few people."
Dave and Shirley ran the drive-in during the summer months and Dave continued to sell life insurance during the winter. They continued as such for several years, and while the drive-in allowed them to provide for their family, they had a desire to do something bigger.
In 1972, Dave and Shirley opened a full-menu, sit-down restaurant on SR 13 (at the current location of the Time Out Inn.). The restaurant was only open for six weeks before Dave fell ill--physically and emotionally drained--and they had to sell.
"Many local people wanted us to open a full-service restaurant," Dave stated. "It is a long story, one which I would like to forget. But, when you have a failure you need to learn from something you did wrong, and that failure taught us we were more of a sandwich and soup type of restaurant. After that I always had a fear of failure, and it made me work that much harder--I became driven."
Luckily, Dave and Shirley were able to take over the lease on the drive-in again once Dave had recovered. However, with the drive-in still only allowing for a seasonal income, Dave began a search for year-round financial stability.
"My thoughts were on a small dining room with a drive-up window," he explained. "The big restaurant, which I had to close, taught me there are limitations to what a person can do. Also, there is a big difference between a full-service restaurant and a soup and sandwich restaurant. Shirley and I worked the drive-in for one more season, and after we closed for the season I started looking for a new location, but it was very hard to find what I wanted."
As luck would have it, Bill Boston, a local barber and a very good friend of Dave's had the answer. Poston happened to be in the right place at the right time when the Standard Oil filling station, located at the corner of Main and Market streets, became available for purchase.
Knowing what Dave had in mind, Poston bought the location on the spot and delivered the news to his friend shortly after. "Two days later, Shirley and I bought the Standard Oil station," Dave said. "I really like the location on a corner where cars could get to a drive-thru window."
That was in November of 1973, and by December of 1974, the construction of Mr. Dave's was completed. Over the next 23 years, Dave and Shirley made the restaurant a staple of downtown North Manchester. In 1997, Mr. Dave's held a community hog roast to celebrate the 35th anniversary, and Dave and Shirley announced they were selling the restaurant to their son and daughter-in-law, Kevin and Tina Clapp.
"My dad believed in quality," Dave stated, "and he used to tell me that if you take care of your business, your business will take care of you. We were able to use this restaurant to teach our kids about hard work and responsibility.
"We really want to emphasize all that Kevin and Tina have done to get us to this date. They've had the restaurant for 15 years and they haven't changed the recipes or the quality of the products--they didn't take any shortcuts. It's because of their hard work and dedication that we can have this 50th anniversary."
Mr. Dave's has certainly secured a place in North Manchester history, and the scope of the restaurant's notoriety far exceeds that of local word-of-mouth. Over the past 50 years, the Clapps have earned national, and even international, recognition for their breaded tenderloins.
"Every restaurant has to have a signature item," said Dave, "something they do that is better than everybody else--ours is the breaded tenderloin. Over the years several fast food restaurants came into North Manchester. Mr. Dave's weathered the storm by cutting our own pork loins for breaded tenderloins, grilled tenderloins, and making fresh sausage and Bar-B-Q. Also, our hamburger is ground in our kitchen every morning from round steak.
"This restaurant is very well known for the pork sandwiches. We use only boneless pork loin to make four different pork sandwiches with a different flavor. Our motto at this restaurant is: 'We trim the fat, not the flavor.'"
With that in mind, it becomes easier to see why Mr. Dave's has been featured in countless newspaper and magazine articles, several books, and even a film.
In 1990, Mr. Dave's received the Pork Appreciation Award, which is the highest award given by the Indiana Pork Producers Association. According to Dave, the association also asked him to sell his tenderloins at the Indiana State Fair, but he declined the offer.
Also in 1990, Michael and Jane Stern featured Mr. Dave's in a national syndicated food column called "Taste of America," which was printed in 85 newspapers across the nation. Dave and Shirley say they served customers from 38 states and six countries as a result of the column.
Mr. Dave's had the distinct honor of being a finalist in the National Pork Restaurant of the Year contest in 1992, and again in 1995.
Also in 1995, Mr. Dave's was featured in a restaurant guide called "Indiana's Favorite Hometown Restaurants: Where the Local Folks Like to Eat." The book, which was available through the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, was compiled after local elected officials submitted their favorite hometown restaurants.
In 1997, Mr. Dave's celebrated its 35th anniversary in conjunction with being selected Business of the Year by the North Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
The Sterns, who are the authors of various dining guides, highlighted Mr. Dave's once again in their 1997 edition of "Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A." Only 15 Indiana food venues were selected for the book, in which the authors list their favorite "500 diners, lobster shacks, farmland buffets, pie palaces, and other all-American eateries."
According to the book, "Indiana's best-known way station for tenderloins, Mr. Dave's cuts and breads its own pork [cutlets]...Mr. Dave's has a drive-through window for pork-famished travelers in a hurry and also freezes tenderloins for shipping to homesick Hoosiers anywhere in the U.S."
Dave said he was honored to have the Sterns come to Mr. Dave's. He added, "I did a pork loin demo for them, and one month later they wrote in Gourmet magazine, 'The man is a pork fanatic...It is a beautiful thing to watch him transform a yard-long boneless loin into 20 cutlets.'"
If you ask Dave though, he would probably say it was Jensen Rufe that promoted Mr. Dave's on the grandest scale. Rufe, formerly of Syracuse, Ind., moved to California in the 90s to become a filmmaker, and upon doing so, found himself longing for the familiar taste of a breaded tenderloin.
Rufe then decided to make a film called "The Quest for the Perfect Hoosier Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich." He wrote a detailed article describing his search for the famous breaded tenderloin, which was published in Indianapolis Monthly magazine in 1998, and the film aired on PBS television stations across Indiana in 1999.
"In the last page of his story we said 'Mr. Dave's ships frozen breaded tenderloins all over the U.S.,'" Dave explained. "Wow, I trimmed out 213 loins in the next 10 days and shipped 1,500 breaded tenderloins. That year, we sold eight tons of pork loins. We had to stop shipping tenderloins though, because we did not have a government meat inspector."
According to Dave, there are three things that Hoosiers miss: high school basketball, old fashioned Wick's Cream Pies, and the breaded tenderloins they ate when they were growing up.
"I used to pull a boat to Orlando, Florida," he stated. "So I would leave the day after Christmas with three coolers full of breaded tenderloins. About 250-300 breaded tenderloins were ordered and I would meet Hoosiers in parking lots.
"Most years I would sell 75 near the exits on Highway 65 before I got to my Florida home. I still take 100 each year for my Hoosier friends; I had to cut back because I do not pull the boat anymore. Those tenderloins were called 'Boat Tenderloins',"
While the Clapps were shipping tenderloins though, they registered deliveries across the U.S., and even to Puerto Rico and Australia.
Rufe did another video for YouTube last March and it's already had around 9,000 hits. (To view, go to www.youtube.com and enter "Hoosier Breaded Tenderloin."
As the time for celebration approaches, Dave and Shirley take pride in their accomplishments, as well as their memories, from the last 50 years.
"We're very proud to reach this milestone," Dave said. "With seven chain restaurants down the street, in a small town of 6,500 we are still here because of hard work, serving quality food, dedication, and knowing our customers and the pork loin.
"I am having a tent full of the history of Mr. Dave's with boards of pictures, awards, magazine and newspaper articles, etc. It will be exciting because several people are coming back to visit and take a trip down memory lane. Our first grill boy, Stan Weller, who was an All-Conference basketball player for Manchester College, is coming all the way from Georgia."
In an email, Rufe said, "I sure wish I could come back for the 50th anniversary party at Mr. Dave's. That certainly is indeed a cause for celebration...quite an accomplishment, especially in this day and age with all the competition from the 'fast food giants'." It is a testament to the devotion of the Clapp family to quality homemade food and a sandwich that has literally put them on the nationwide map."
In addition to the public celebration held all week, the Clapp family is holding a private "Car Hop Reunion" on Sunday, Sept. 9, to honor the employees that worked for Dave and Shirley at Dave's Drive-In.
According to Dave, 40-50 car hops plan to come back for the reunion. "We're very happy that the Car Hop Reunion is going to be standing room only," Dave stated.
"The car hops were our employees at Dave's Drive-In starting in 1962," he continued. "Because the drive-in was the foundation for Mr. Dave's we remember that group as being important for us to provide for our family. During the Car Hop Reunion, I'll be handing out mugs with our logo on one side and 'I was a Car Hop' on the other side for our employees who worked for us from 1962-73. I'm also going to present six appreciation awards to people that have meant a lot to this restaurant."
In the end, Dave and Shirley agree that they could never say enough about their customers or thank them enough for their loyalty.
"This restaurant has given our family jobs," Shirley concluded. "We're happy that we're in this size of a town and know a lot of people--there have been a lot of very good customers."