Local Restaurant Celebrates 30th Anniversary In Hendricks County
Photographer / Amy Payne
Larry Paynter chalks up his lifetime of success to hard work and a lot of luck. The 74-year-old owner of the Coachman, a full-service restaurant and bar in Plainfield, has seen a lifetime of good decisions and mistakes. But basking in the 30th year of his restaurant, he knows the Coachman is certainly not a mistake.
“We aren’t just bettering our all-time record year,” Paynter says with a shrug. “We are crushing it. Business is fabulous.”
It might come as a surprise then that at the end of the year, Paynter is stepping back and handing his restaurant over to his stepson Brad Yarnell. But Paynter’s looking forward to the change.
“I feel great about it,” Paynter says. “He’ll do a wonderful job.”
Paynter has seen the Coachman from its beginnings on paper to being a restaurant standing literally in the middle of a field to what it is now, a bustling eatery surrounded by businesses, hotels and shops. He wasn’t always planning to go into the restaurant business, however.
A graduate of Decatur Central High School, Paynter grew up in a fairly poor area on the southwest side of Indianapolis. He was voted as one of the top 10 in his class most likely to succeed, but he was too busy working on schoolwork and side jobs to notice.
“I was probably the poorest kid of all my buddies, but I always had money and I always had a car when they didn’t,” Paynter says. “It was because I worked.”
He got drafted into the U.S. Army and moved away from home at the age of 19, where he got an apartment with a friend and experienced indoor plumbing, color TV, and stereo all for the first time. Though he and his roommate joined the army together, another buddy of theirs joined the Marine Corps.
“He told us, ‘I just joined the Marine Corps. And going to California and you two hillbillies are going to Kentucky for basic training,’” Paynter recalls. “We said, ‘Hell, we’ve never been to California!’ and we joined the Marines together.”
While in the Marines, Paynter served for 13 months in Vietnam, also spending some time on bases in North Carolina and California.
Once home from the war, Paynter did the only thing he knew to do: worked. He went back to his factory job at a paint company. Paynter, who dubs himself more of a people person, was itching to get out of the factory setting. He moved on to a job selling insurance, and though he was good at it, he realized he didn’t fully believe in the product he was selling. After that, he decided to follow his tastes.
“I liked my beer,” Paynter says. “I went to the Schlitz beer distributor looking for a job, but I ran into a Budweiser salesman. I got a job as a salesman and worked my way up to a Budweiser sales manager in 1976.”
The next few years brought challenges, from a divorce from his wife of nine years to the passing of his mother in 1980. While he enjoyed his job, Paynter wasn’t one to pass up good opportunities. When a friend of his in the restaurant business invited Paynter to join him in the business, Paynter agreed. Together, they opened Coach & Horses Restaurant and Pub on the corner of Rockville Road and Raceway Road in Avon.
“Things started popping,” Paynter says.
He bought out his partner within the year.
“We were at the right place at the right time,” Paynter says.
When Coach and Horses opened, the closest fast-food restaurant was miles away at 10th Street and Girls School or clear out in Danville. But business was always booming, even with the limited space of 3,000 square feet. The amount of business Paynter did in that restaurant still baffles him.
While he loved the work and owned the business himself, he didn’t own the property, which was his ultimate goal. He kept his eye out for the right location and the right time.
It wasn’t long before fate made itself obvious. Out of the blue, two good friends of his – both named Larry – approached him. One was a builder and the other was a banker, and they were developing Cambridge Square in Plainfield, where the Coachman sits now. They had two partners: one named Larry and one named Gene, which is Paynter’s middle name.
“So that’s three Larry’s and a Gene,” Paynter says, holding up four fingers. “I figured somebody was trying to tell me something. It’s like somebody smacked me upside the head. They wanted me to build a restaurant there. Figured I should pay attention.”
Not only was Paynter given the first option for where to build, but he also helped design the building and layout, most of which was built (and tweaked by an architect) per his request. He married his wife Becky in 1983, and she became a pivotal part of the restaurant, not only helping to design the building but also lending her kitchen expertise to the menu.
“I could have never done this without Becky’s support,” Paynter says. “It’s a very tough business for relationships. She helped design the building, and she’s a great cook herself.”
In fact, Becky still makes the menu’s homemade meatballs and bread puddings, contributing regularly to menu ideas and changes.
The land was purchased in 1989, and the ground was broken on July 19 of that year with their grand opening of the Coachman taking place on December 17.
“I know of no other independent restaurant owner that has actually purchased the land and designed and built their own freestanding building,” Paynter says. “I am very proud of that.”
The restaurant name is a nod to his menu from Coach and Horses, which touted a quarter pounder called the Breakman and a half-pounder called the Coachman.
Though he had experience with Coach and Horses, Paynter says the opening of the Coachman was scary.
“We had 95 employees and only 10 knew what they were doing,” he says. “It was right before Christmas when we opened, and it was the coldest winter I can remember with a week straight of -20 degree temperatures. But it wasn’t cold enough. There were just too many people.”
The Coachman was packed that entire winter and never stopped.
Soon, however, life happened again. Paynter’s wife was having health problems and his mother-in-law, a prep cook at the Coachman, passed away. It was time to take a step back. He sold Coach & Horse in 1998, and he has focused on the Coachman ever since.
If Paynter has learned anything, it’s that life comes unexpectedly, and opportunities must be seized.
“I’ll tell you exactly what I know,” Paynter says. “If you’re fully staffed, you’re not going to be busy. If you’re short-staffed, you’ll be swamped.”
He’s had numerous offers to sell the Coachman over the years, but Paynter says it’s not his to sell.
“The Coachman doesn’t just belong to me and my wife,” Paynter says. “It belongs to my employees, and it belongs to the town of Plainfield.”
Paynter proves his commitment to the town by giving back in a variety of ways. He has served on the Board of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce for years, the board of the Hendricks County Community Foundation, and he and his wife are heavily involved in funding a total of 24 Hendricks County food pantries. He established a fund called the Larry and Becky Paynter Never Go Hungry fund so that if something happens to them, money will continue to be put into that foundation. He also helped organize a golf outing for the mother of an employee, a Plainfield High School student who died suddenly of spinal meningitis. They reached their goal of raising $100,000 and starting a foundation to issue scholarships to students in the daughter’s honor each year.
Brad DuBois, President of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, has known Paynter since 1990. DuBois owned a local golf shop at the time, and Paynter, looking to partner with local businesses, purchased much of his golf gear there. Paynter organized a golf outing every year for 30 years, connecting local business owners and donating money to local causes. He purchased the lion’s share of his door prizes at DuBois’ shop.
“He’s a community guy, for sure,” DuBois says. “He gives to veterans, he gives to kids, he gives to everybody. He has a big heart.”
While Paynter no longer serves on the board, DuBois says he shows up to many board meetings and still makes donations. He’s also involved with the Chamber Lunch Bunch, where they provide food for kids during the summer who normally are on free or reduced lunch during the school year.
He also says Paynter is involved with the non-profit Gathering Together, helping raise funds for people transitioning from life to death.
“He just takes care of people,” DuBois adds. “He is a good human being. There’s none better.”
The Coachman Restaurant is located at 6112 Cambridge Way in Plainfield. You can give them a call at 317-839-4545 or visit them online for at thecoachmanrestaurant.com for more information.