Grindstone Charley’s Enjoys Rare Staying Power in the Local Dining Scene
Writer / Julie Yates
Photographer / Jim Hunt
In a business where establishments shine brightly when they initially appear on the scene only to fizzle out within a few short years, the longevity of Grindstone Charley’s Restaurant + Bar is considerable.
Opened by the Fogelsong family in 1998, right in the heart of Kokomo at State Road 931 and Alto Road, the eatery has three generations of experience behind it. Blake Fogelsong, owner and director of operations, and his father Perry Fogelsong, president and CEO of Clancy’s Inc., credit the restaurant’s success to the ability to change with the times, yet maintain consistent quality and the capability to provide excellent customer service.
“In 1965 my grandfather opened Clancy’s Hamburgers in Noblesville,” Blake says. “It closed in 2004, but it was innovative at the time since it was the first double drive-through fast-food restaurant in the Midwest.”
In 1982 Perry began to open Grindstone Charley’s restaurants, which began the company’s growth into full-service eateries.
“When my dad began to grow the full-service side in the 1990s, we had to deal with national chains,” Blake says. “We’ve really strived to brand our company as local and family. We don’t try to compete as a chain restaurant anymore – we want to be known as the local neighborhood gem at any of our concepts. We also want to use as many local products as we can.”
The staff and leaders at Grindstone Charley’s in Kokomo feel fortunate to have maintained loyal customers who have frequented the restaurant through the years. They keep coming back for a couple key reasons. While they know the items ordered will always have the same delicious taste expected, the menu itself isn’t stagnant. Several seasonal menus are offered at different times throughout the year.
“My official title is president and CEO, but I’m really the ‘Director of Continuous Improvement,’” Perry says. “We have an attitude of always looking forward, getting to the next level. Exceptional customer service is the rule. There are members of the Kokomo team of employees that have been with the company ever since it opened. Their motto is, ‘The answer is yes. Now, what’s the question?’”
The challenge of COVID didn’t prevent the restaurant from continuing to serve residents. Although closed for indoor dining during the government-mandated business shutdowns last year, online ordering for carry-out and delivery through DoorDash and Grubhub was implemented. When the restaurant reopened a couple months later, customers appreciated safety protocols such as the installation of plexiglass between seating areas.
“It’s all the little details that separate good restaurants from great ones, and I think I learned that early on from growing up in a restaurant family,” Blake says. “We would go out to dinner and my dad pointed out what things to look for, like checking on the landscaping when pulling into the parking lot, all the way down to the salt and pepper shakers being aligned on the table properly.”
Grindstone Charley’s specializes in American cuisine, and the choices span from appetizers to desserts. They are known for steaks and seafood, as well as popular items such as pork tenderloin sandwiches and specialty burgers. Comfort foods include homemade chicken and noodles as well as soup. Indiana’s state pie, sugar cream, is just one of the indulgent desserts available. Prices run from around $10 on up for appetizers, salads and soups. Most mains start at $12.99 for a six-ounce top sirloin, to $29.99 for a 16-ounce serving of prime rib. Desserts are around $5.
“After growing up in the business I really learned to love it and couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Blake adds. “It can be stressful and long hours, but when I was growing up my dad used to tell me three things – focus, intensity and concentration. We tell the story of the company’s history by giving our customers the best products we can, all while giving exceptional hospitality. We really want to thank Kokomo for their overwhelming support and loyalty.”
Grindstone Charley’s is located at 3830 South Lafountain Street in Kokomo. For more info, call 765-453-9125. To order online for pickup or delivery from DoorDash or Grubhub, visit GrindstoneCharleys.com.