When Robin and Ron Phelps brought Dayton’s Family Affair into a standalone restaurant, the Shelbyville couple expected their brand to be successful.
The couple’s food truck business was well established and their work in the kitchen at the Shelbyville Fraternal Order of Eagles, 20 E. Franklin St., was well known.
Open just over a month now at its current location, 2505 East State Road 44, Robin Phelps is amazed at the outpouring of support that has caused them to struggle mightily to keep up
“Did we expect this? No. Absolutely not,” said Robin while sitting at a table in the restaurant Saturday morning as staff workers prepared for a busy day and night ahead. “We didn’t have this at the Eagles. I didn’t expect all this. It’s overwhelming.”
Dayton’s Family Affair opened Dec. 27 and it did not go well despite their experience in the dining industry.
“It was hectic. We weren’t expecting to be that busy,” she said. “It was a disaster. I will be frank. It was a disaster.”
Four days later on New Year’s Eve, the business sold 1,000 pizzas before running out of supplies.
“We were laughing and we were crying,” she said. “Who does that? Who sells 1,000 pizzas in a day.”
Demand has completely overwhelmed supply in the first month of operations. The staff of 15 are having a difficult time keeping up with all the orders and Robin knows that.
It will get better. It will get faster. And it will get bigger now that the owners know what they have created.
A business arrangement is being worked out with Tom Kremer, whose family owned the Chicken & Steak Inn. The two businesses will be merging in the months ahead as Kremer is already in the restaurant working with the Dayton’s staff.
The restaurant is getting a new POS system this week to make all orders electronic which will speed up the process of getting orders to the kitchen correctly.
And plans are in place to expand the dining area into the adjacent store, which formerly was a clothing store. That will likely triple the dining space, add a bar to serve alcohol, and create a private room for large groups.
Dayton’s Family Affair started several years ago when Robin and Ron got into the concessions business and started traveling the fair and festival circuits. The money they were making was going into a college fund for their grandson, Dayton Cooper – a Shelbyville Middle School seventh grader, hence the name of the restaurant.
“We knew somebody that had the Eagles kitchen before,” said Robin. “One of the trustees approached us at the fair to take the kitchen. Had we known how much work that it was going to be … it was disgusting. It took me about a month-and-a-half, with four people, to clean it. We got it cleaned and we did a good business there … but not like this.”
After two-plus years, it was time to take on the challenge of opening a restaurant and the former China Inn building in the Belaire Shopping Center on the city’s east side was available – but it needed a lot of work too.
“It was bad. We bought every can of oven cleaner here and in Shelby County and Franklin,” said Robin. “That’s how you had to scrub the walls. There was so much food all the way up to the ceiling. You had to use a scouring pad and oven cleaner to do the walls. It took some time to get this clean.”
The building would not cooperate, though.
“Once we got it cleaned and painted, we turned the water on and the water pipes burst,” she said. “We replaced the tiles three different times in the kitchen. Then we had drain issues.”
Then came the people. And more people. And more.
A second phone line was added to take call-in orders and people are still frustrated that they cannot get through to order.
“The phones are constantly ringing,” she said. “It’s non-stop.”
The restaurant currently has seating for 83 people. On Friday, the Phelps family ran a fundraiser for a local youth with medical issues and had customers waiting outside wrapped around the building.
“This reminds me of the Chicken & Steak Inn when I was growing up,” said Kremer. “It was tickets non-stop for 4-5 hours.”
Once they are done, and it may take another month to get the kinks smoothed out for the current configuration, and a few more months to expand the dining area and set up the bar side, Kremer thinks it will be a special place to visit in Shelbyville.
“There are a lot of changes to make things run smoother,” said Kremer. “Once we get it all settled down, it will run smooth.”
Dayton’s Family Affair is open six days a week and closed on Sundays. The restaurant is open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the weekends.