Someone called in sick from a work shift at The Fiddlers Three restaurant, so Sherry Lower went to fill in. That was 46 years ago. She still serves customers there today.
Changes have come and gone at the eatery from the time Bill and Jenny Dugan opened the 1415 E. Michigan Road business in Shelbyville on Dec. 1, 1972, but the dedication and loyalty of its staff has been firm.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate. I don’t know what I would do without them,” Kathy DeMoss said about her 19 full-time and part-time employees. “They are the backbone of the business for sure.”
She and her husband Jay have co-owned The Fiddlers Three since 2000. She is the Dugans’ daughter.
In addition to Lower’s longevity, DeMoss said her assistant, Misty Deaton, has worked at The Fiddlers Three for 25 years, Deaton’s mother, Debbie Blevins, for more than 40 years on a part-time basis, and Deaton’s brother, Joe Hall, for at least 20 years.
“I have part-time employees who have been with us nine to 10 years even if they work just one to two evenings a week,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed.”
It’s difficult for business owners to have minimal turnover of employees, according to DeMoss, “especially in a business like this. Any type of food service has terrible shortages of qualified employees willing to work, people who are dedicated. There’s a shortage of good help.”
She described 66-year-old Lower as “loyal to the core” and dependable. “Several customers request her,” DeMoss said. “She puts efforts of the restaurant ahead of other things.”
Lower did just that when she walked through the establishment’s doors for the first time to work that understaffed shift.
Her former husband, Steve Lower, was Dugan’s assistant in the construction of the cottage-style building that took five years to plan and build. He was the bartender and manager when the restaurant opened, so when he was short on staff, he called her to fill in.
“I was probably 20 years old when I started,” she said. “The first time I came in and worked as a waitress, I wasn’t working full-time. It was at lunch. This was a deli where you could buy soup and sandwiches. The soups were kept in cast iron pots on the fireplace.”
Bulk spices were also sold in burlap bags on the landing where the fireplace is, Lower said. During the Christmas season, live trees were lined up in rows outside and sold through Dugan’s Flower Shop that was also located on the restaurant property.
“I was off (work) for a while when my daughter (Brandy Murray) was born, then I went to work in the gift shop shortly after my son (Shane Lower) was born,” Lower said. The gift shop used to be at the entrance and in the room to the left where various community groups meet now.
The Fiddlers Three progressed to hot meals, she said, then, after a few years started “slowly” with evening meals. In time, a downstairs dining room and pub were built. The pub opened in 1974.
“Nothing has changed for a long, long time other than the wallpaper and paint,” she said.
According to the printed history of the restaurant, which is placed on the tables for customers to see, all of the interior wooden beams are authentic, and “all fancy woodwork, display cases and cabinets were manufactured on the premises” by Dugan and Steve Lower. The two men also constructed the leaded glass windows and doors “consisting of over 1,700 pieces of glass.”
Shelbyville Master Mason Harley Q. Brown built two large fireplaces on the premises that connect to a chimney that extends 40 feet into the air and is anchored six feet below floor level. In addition, the printed history showed that bricks used on the lower level fireplace are more than 100 years old, having come from the Old Fellows Hall in St. Paul, and “the mantel is a 148-year-old hewn beam from Shelby County.
“Lots of parties are hosted here and at Maxims (an event venue located behind The Fiddlers Three). We used to use two large banquet rooms upstairs,” Lower said. “Through the years, it was harder for us to get up there.”
After a moment of quiet reflection, she said she doesn’t know where the time has gone.
“I like it here,” Lower said, looking around the restaurant. “I like the people who come in. I like talking to people. (Employees) have always considered ourselves family. When we were all a lot younger, Bill and Jenny would cook these big dinners and we’d all sit around and eat.”
There have been many stories throughout the years.
“Good and bad,” said Lower, who is a native of Shelbyville. “If I could only remember them, I could write a book. But, sometimes you don’t want to remember them!”
As expected, she sees familiar faces every day alongside new ones.
“Customers come from Rushville, Greensburg, Batesville and Franklin,” she said. “People use us as a halfway point to meet for dinner and visit.” Social media sites like Yelp attract out-of-county visitors to The Fiddlers Three, too, according to Lower.
Lower, a grandmother to 10 and great-grandmother to two, said she has no plans to retire. However, instead of working five evenings a week she reduced her work schedule at The Fiddlers Three to four evenings a week. She is also the day manager for the Cork liquor stores locally. “I make myself sit down for an hour a day, although sometimes I have to force myself to do it,” she said.
The Fiddlers Three is open Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5 to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. The restaurant and pub are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are accepted by calling 317-392-4371.
“My parents had an idea that really took off,” said DeMoss. Her father died five years ago, and her mother is 82 years old. “My Mom and Dad were hard workers, innovative, and brought something to Shelbyville that no one had ever seen. My family (business) has been on this corner for 75 years. That’s pretty incredible. It’s been a good long haul.”