ONE OF INDIANA’S DANDY DINERS
Story by: Mike May
Are you looking for great food at great prices with great service in a great atmosphere in a great little town? If so, look no further than Larrison’s Diner, the self-proclaimed birthplace of home cookin,’ which is located in Seymour, Indiana. In many respects, Larrison’s is Indiana’s equivalent of the former NBC-hit TV show Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” That label definitely applies to Larrison’s Diner. This small Midwestern town, which sits at the crossroads of I-65 and U.S. 50 in south central Indiana, is also the home of rock & roll legend John Mellencamp. And, he’s eaten at Larrison’s…..and so have many of his family and followers. Yes, Larrison’s Diner is a ‘Mellen Head’ hangout.
Located in the heart of historic downtown Seymour, Larrison’s Diner (200 South Chestnut Street; Seymour, Indiana; www.larrisonsdiner.net; 812-522-5523 or firstname.lastname@example.org) has a strong track record of attracting legions of loyal customers, who keep coming back. They are joined by their children and grandchildren.
If you have never been to Seymour, then Larrison’s is a good reason to visit, even if it’s for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. If you have visited Seymour, but did not eat at Larrison’s Diner, you now have a good reason to return.
For golfers who flock to southern Indiana to play golf at Otter Creek in Columbus (to the north), Covered Bridge in Sellersburg (to the south), or to the two great golf courses (The Dye Course and The Donald Ross Course) in French Lick (to the west), Larrison’s Diner is a great dining destination for breakfast before you hit the first tee.
The building which houses Larrison’s Diner actually started out as a grocery store (Abel’s Grocery) more than 100 years ago – back in the late 1800s. The property was eventually transformed into a dairy – Miller Yarling Dairy. At some point in the late 1930s, local businessman Ed Aufenburg installed a grill at this location and he started selling hamburgers by the sack. He called it Ed’s Hamburger Shop. In the 1940s, George Hart, who worked at the Seymour Tribune, bought the property. It was renamed Hart’s Sandwich Shop. It’s worth noting that soon after Hart renamed the business, there was a time when there were two different signs attached to the business – Hart’s Sandwich Shop and Ed’s Hamburger Shop, Buy ‘Em By The Sack. Hart ran the business with the assistance of his wife Dean. Despite the fact that George died in 1954, Dean and her children and grandchildren continued to operate Hart’s Sandwich Shop until the mid 1970s. In 1975, longtime Seymour residents Ed and Jan Larrison bought the business and changed the name to Larrison’s Sandwich Shop. In 1996, the Larrisons’ two children – Liz and Kevin – bought the business from their parents. It was rebranded and became known as Larrison’s Diner.
“We believed that by calling it a diner, it would best reflect its age and longevity,” states Kevin Larrison.
The diner is now firmly entrenched as a go-to place to eat for both locals and visitors passing through town. One of Larrison’s regular customers for years was the original Colonel Sanders, the late Harland Sanders, who visited the restaurant many times in the 1970s.
“He would drink a milkshake at the counter at the back by the juke box,” recalls Liz Larrison.
Many customers drop by Larrison’s every week because it’s an extension of their home and their neighborhood.
“Our customers like the ambience. People are comfortable here and they love the atmosphere. We have also carried on some of the traditions of the past such as the grilled onions and freshly cut fries,” says Liz Larrison, who worked for her dad at Larrison’s as a teenager. “People are always chatting across the aisle with one another. And, our customer service is outstanding.”
Nowadays, Liz is in total control of the diner, but Kevin continues to help out in a pinch when his sister needs a helping hand.
“It is important to know that our downtown had many cafes and diner-type establishments at one time,” adds Kevin. “I recall at least three when I was a young boy in the 1960s. Supercenters and malls have killed businesses in our downtown, and I think we survived those early years because we were right off Highway 50 (Tipton Street). We survived until it was cool to be an old diner again. With all the new highway places to eat, downtown establishments became thought of as ‘greasy spoons’ and lackluster. We endured those times until people came to see them as vogue. That and the fact that families continued to bring their children and grandchildren. Now, those kids bring their young ones. It all worked out for us.”
What are the specialty dishes at Larrison’s Diner? At Larrison’s, they serve breakfast and lunch six days a week. The place is closed on Sundays. Breakfast starts at 7:00 am and ends sharply at 11:00 am. Liz Larrison is locking the door for the day at 3:00 pm. After all, she has to get ready for the next day.
The once exception to the opening hours takes place in late August.
“We open Friday and Saturday night of the annual “Scoop the Loop,” which is the third weekend in August,” added Liz Larrison. “We have them (customers) lined down the street and the grill is full of burgers before we unlock the door.”
At breakfast, two of the favorites are the Dewey Special and the Finn Special. The Dewey is a fried egg, sausage, fried potatoes, and cheese on a bun. The Finn is the same thing, but it is also covered with sausage gravy. If you order the Finn Special, come with an appetite. The main attractions for lunch are Larrison’s Old Style Hamburgers. The featured hamburgers are the double cheeseburgers, the Big E, and the Big E Plus. Back in the 1970s, the Big E was owner Ed Larrison’s menu response to the quarter pounder from McDonald’s. At Larrison’s, the Beg E is a five ounce burger. The Big E Plus has an additional patty on top of the regular Big E. Of course, you shouldn’t have a hamburger from Larrison’s without the famous grilled onions. If you want a specialty burger, you can order the Bison Burger. The bison are raised in nearby Kentucky. The bison are field grazed and drug free. To complement any burger, order the French fries or onion rings. The fries are cut from real potatoes and the rings are non-alcohol beer battered. The weekday lunch specials are also very popular. The main course changes every weekday, but the side dishes remain the same: mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. The main course on Monday is either chicken & egg noodles or meatloaf. On Tuesdays, it’s homemade Swiss Steak. On Wednesdays, it’s beef Manhattan served over white bread. On Thursdays, it’s a country fried chicken filet. And, on Fridays, it’s country fried steak. When it comes time for dessert, it’s tough to say no to the hand dipped shakes, sundaes, and cream pie.
Even though eating at Larrison’s Diner is a yesteryear experience, this place is trendy and in tune with the rest of modern society as the diner has its own Facebook page. After eating, you can tell the world that you just experienced great food at a great price with great service in a great atmosphere in a great little town. That’s something that everybody should ‘like.’
The author of this story is Mike May, a south Florida-based freelance, travel, and destination writer. He is a former resident of Seymour, Indiana. He can be reached on email at email@example.com