Patrick and Pat Rice, the enterprising partners behind
The Tin Plate, Elwood's 2017 Business of the Year
It’s been a hallmark year for The Tin Plate, the restaurant-bar owned and operated by father and son, Patrick Rice, Senior and Junior. Praises for their service and cuisine – especially their tenderloin sandwiches – generate five-star customer reviews and bring in ever more customers from throughout Indiana and as far away as North Dakota. Most recently, the Elwood Chamber surprised The Tin Plate with its Best Business of 2017 award, presented to Pat (Sr.) and Patrick (Jr.) on November 30 at the Chamber’s annual celebration dinner. We felt fortunate to pin the duo down for what was supposed to be a 20-minute interview, but due to the abundant enthusiasm shared by the two, the interview lasted over an hour. Brevity is not the Rices’ strong suit. Thankfully, for diners who frequent The Tin Plate, running a top-notch business is. Following is the result of our hour-long, sit-down Q&A.
QUESTION: Did you start the Tin Plate restaurant or had it already been established when you opened?
PATRICK RICE JR. (PATRICK): I bought the building with the intention of taking it from what it’d always been, just a bar, to a full-fledged family restaurant that we could be proud of and that everyone would like to visit. … Prior to buying the place, he [Pat Sr.] and I were talking about buying a building on South Anderson Street to start a pizza place. In the meantime, the man who owned this building called me up and offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. It was like it was meant to be. Dad and I walked in with flashlights…
here [he points from the wall behind the bar to west wall of the dining room] to add about 65 seats to the restaurant. … Another couple cool things – we’re adding steaks, a whole line of sides, a really nice salmon dinner, and we’re putting in a state-of-the-art smoker to allow us to have ribs and chicken, brisket, smoked hams and turkeys … lots of different things.
PAT: We’re also adding a bakery. We’ll do our own pies, cakes, dinner rolls, and eventually our own buns and breads.
PATRICK: We’re trying to morph into a bigger chain-type restaurant but only stay right here in Elwood. The rumors of us going to other locations are just that … rumors. We decided a year ago that instead of going to other towns, we’re going to stay right here and put all our effort and money back into where it all started. In essence, we’re marrying Elwood.
PAT: We’re got a large following from Fishers, Westfield, Carmel, Noblesville, Kokomo, Anderson – just to name a few. Even from as far as Terre Haute just because they’ve heard of our tenderloin.
PATRICK: We’ve sold almost 19,000 tenderloins this year alone!
PAT: We’re not a drive-by place. They want to come to see us. They come here on purpose. Slick Leonard of the Pacers was here yesterday. We’ve had several USAC race car drivers here.
Q: In what ways have you been involved with racing and other sporting events?
PAT: We sponsor the winner’s trophy – Tinplate Champions Trophy – for the annual Little 500, the biggest sporting event in Madison County. Part of the trophy is made right here in Elwood at Prestige Art Glass.
PATRICK: And Isaac Chapel will have “The Tin Plate” on his car for all year.
PAT: We do a lot in the community … we sponsor both fields for girls’ softball. We sponsor all the Elwood teams. And not just sports. We include the band, too.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge with the restaurant? And what is your greatest achievement – so far?
PATRICK: It’s a challenge keeping the quality, the cleanliness, and the food handling practices consistent on a daily basis.
PAT: On a busy night, it’s a challenge finding seats for everybody.
Q: The Tin Plate has an outstanding reputation that extends far beyond the Elwood city limits. What are some of your secrets for success?
PATRICK: Being here to oversee every part of the operation to the customer’s liking.
PAT: He and I and Magen Idlewine, our general manager, are here from opening to closing every day. We greet the people and offer them personal service. We have a great team of servers. If I’m here walking around, I’ll help out. It’s all about the little extras.
PATRICK: There are a lot of times we’ll go buy extra food for special meals if people have requested it.
PAT: We want to make every person who walks in our door feel like they’re in our home as a special guest. They keep coming back because of the quality and that service.
PATRICK: People also really appreciate our Missing Man Table. A lot of restaurants have a table like that set up once a year on Veterans’ Day, but ours is there all the time – 24/7/365. Every evening at 6 o’clock we look around and ask a veteran if they’ll do us the honor of lighting the candle. It’s a beacon of hope. The table is always set for them. It’s the symbolism behind it.
QUESTION: What are some of your dreams for The Tin Plate’s future?
PATRICK: To have every square inch of this building doing something for the business – meaning that, at some point, I’d like to put some meeting rooms upstairs. Parking has been a huge deal, so we bought four lots to put a new parking lot in.
PAT: We’ve got a lot of aggressive plans. We’re approaching our three-year anniversary, and we’ve accomplished more in that time than some businesses have in their entire span of existence.
QUESTION: What is your favorite Chamber event?
PATRICK: The Glass Festival and The Tin Plate All-American Glass Festival Parade, which we happily sponsor.
PAT: It’s part of giving back to the community. That and bringing talented acts to the Main Stage for the festival, like getting Doug Stone here last year.
QUESTION: What do you consider Elwood’s greatest untapped resource?
PAT: We have a lot going for us in Elwood – two family-owned companies that make art glass, several factories, including one of the largest producers of tomato products in the world. We have a good school system, a nice park, and you’ll not find a downtown that’s decorated any nicer for Christmas. Elwood is looking up. Elwood is going in the right direction. I still feel it’s the safest place to raise your kids. And that may be what’s untapped – that a lot of people from surrounding towns don’t know about it.
QUESTION: What do you predict for Elwood over the next five to ten years?
PATRICK: I think growth and prosperity. We have three major corporations here that seem to be doing well – Elsa, Warner Body, and Red Gold. We have their world headquarters three blocks down the road. I think there’ll be continued prosperity. And I think it’s going to grow some.
QUESTION: Tell us a little about yourselves.
PATRICK: I was born and raised in Elwood. I graduated from Elwood Community High School in 1991. I have a 19-year-old daughter, Morgan, who is a corrections officer at Pendleton.
PAT: I moved to Elwood from Danbury, Connecticut, when I was 10. I graduated from Wendell Willkie High School in 1970. Then I spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserves. I became an Elwood police officer in 1976 and stayed until I retired in 2004.
QUESTION: What are your hobbies, and how do you like to spend your free time?
PATRICK: What is free time?
PAT: We do have Sundays off, but we often come here to do maintenance. He [son Patrick] puts in about 70 hours a week, and I do about 60. But you can see it pays off. You can’t be a part-time owner.
QUESTION: In closing, is there anything else you would like readers to know about the Tin Plate or yourselves?
PAT: We named this business after the tin plate factory from long ago. We have pictures on the wall depicting some of the workers. I’m kind of a history buff.
PATRICK: A lot of people don’t realize this was the first industrialized section of the city. The tin plate was located here
PAT: When the tin plate company was built in 1882, it was the largest tin plating factory in the world. It employed 1,800 to 2,000 people in its heyday. That inspires us.