Leaders of Jim Dandy Restaurants Talk Company’s Long History
Writer / Sarah Shutt
Photographer / Jason Graves
Harry Reasner, founder of Jim Dandy Restaurant locations, first started the business by purchasing a two-window, walk-up-style frozen custard building in 1950. Later in 1955, Reasner built the Riley Park Drive-in in Greenfield and purchased the A&W Drive-in in Tipton. When Reasner was planning the style for Jim Dandy, it was during the 1960s when Big Boy restaurants were opening in Indiana. Reasner thought it was a good concept for county seats, and did not want to go into the big metro areas.
In 1964 he put up the first Jim Dandy Drive-in in Noblesville, and changed the Riley Park Drive-in into an official Jim Dandy location. A few years later in 1966, the A&W in Tipton was torn down and replaced by a third Jim Dandy Drive-in. The Tipton Jim Dandy offered curbside service, which included stalls where customers could place their orders and curb girls would deliver the food. That service died out in the late 1980s and was replaced with curbside to-go business. The company has been doing curbside to-go since the change – an adaptation that has served them quite well with the state of the world today.
Reasner’s sons Brent and Dave Reasner are now in charge of the Jim Dandy locations, and they are trying to keep everything how it originally was. Through the years many things have changed, but one thing that hasn’t is the menu full of family recipes.
“The number of items on our menu has been with us since the beginning, and they are all family recipes of the Reasner family,” Dave says.
The most famous item since 1964 is the double-decker burger, named the Jim Dandy, with their famous Jim Dandy sauce. Another popular item is the world-famous coleslaw.
“We have had people come back from living in California and such places, to come buy our coleslaw by the gallon,” Brent says.
According to the owners’ research, they have made about 350,000 gallons of their famous coleslaw since 1964.
“We are very proud of our items and we make them in-house every day,” says Gary Sampson, the head of marketing. “Quality is our number-one priority in the restaurant.”
They have family recipes for vegetable soup, ham-and-bean soup, and chicken noodle soup. The staff makes everything in their prep department every day. In 1970 they started selling broasted chicken, which has become a large part of their sales today. In recent years they took into consideration the quality of their beef, and switched to Angus beef.
“We still do things the old way, and that’s what keeps people coming back,” Brent says. “It’s good, it’s old fashioned, and it’s the same thing they have eaten since 1964.”
Not only does the Jim Dandy team care about their customers, but they also care about the community. Community relations are very important to them, and they are often participating in community events. The employees hold a Fundraiser Night program in all locations, during which they donate a portion of profits to schools, charities, churches and other local organizations.
“In the last full year, we raised $150,000 for those events,” Brent says.
“It’s always been a focus to be involved in our communities – we are small-town people and that is something we think is very important to be a part of,” Dave adds.
The Jim Dandy team has also offered kids events throughout the years. Last year they wanted to do something for kids in light of COVID-19, so they brought in Santa Claus for an event. During the event, kids were able to wave to Santa and tell him from a safe distance what they wanted for Christmas.
One thing all locals should know about Jim Dandy is that it is a place where people can gather and share a good meal.
“Our saying is, ‘Good food, good friends, good time,’ and you can expect exactly that when you come in,” Sampson says.
Sampson was hired by Reasner in Noblesville when he was 16, and Sampson worked through college until he became full time and started working for the marketing department. Like Sampson, a number of people have been with the Jim Dandy family for many years. Some servers have been there for more than 40 years.
“We have had people starting with us since they were young and up until now,” Dave says. “It almost seems like we raised them here in the restaurant.”
Jim Dandy locations are not the only restaurants the Reasner family runs – they also run a handful of Dairy Queen stores in Indiana. The origin of these locations dates back to the original two-window walk-up that Reasner started on the east side of Tipton. Eventually in the early 1980s, it was converted into an establishment akin to a Wendy’s with ice cream. Later McDonald’s and Hardee’s came to town, and that was when the team knew they needed a national name to compete. With a foot already in the ice cream business, Dairy Queen seemed like the way to go.
In 1988 they converted the Tipton Polar Bear Frozen Custard stand into their first Dairy Queen. Since then they have acquired 11 more, for a total of 12 Dairy Queen locations scattered in the central part of the state.
The company leaders treat their Dairy Queen employees and managers like family.
“We enjoy the Dairy Queen business because in general, the people inside the restaurant are happy, and when you give them an ice cream sundae, they become happier,” Brent says.
The company’s leaders have had to change and adapt certain aspects of their restaurants due to COVID-19.
“We are following all the safety and sanitation protocols to the nth degree, in order to provide a safe, quality environment,” Sampson says.
Jim Dandy restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with cafeteria-style serving. Offering all-day breakfast, the dining room is open with limited seating, with proper social distancing between tables, sanitizing stations, and contactless curbside service.
“We are trying to navigate through the uncertain waters of the time, and we appreciate all of our loyal customers helping us stay afloat.” Brent says.
For more info and to view a Jim Dandy menu, visit jdrest.com.