If the retail mantra “location, location, location”
is true, then the story of Miller’s Restaurant is an incongruous one.
When James L. Miller and his wife, Mary Ellen, purchased a grimy beer joint
that was fraught with rats, cockroaches and assorted local derelicts their dream
was modest. They just wanted to clean the place up and turn into a nice little
family restaurant. Tucked away in the cornfields of Clinton County, Indiana
the only thing close to the town of Colfax was the ground.
After cleaning up what became Miller’s Restaurant and
having their destiny altered due to a visit by the Indiana Department of the
Treasury, the Millers launched a menu that created a craving that lured over
5,000,000 people to Colfax during their ownership of the business. That the
primary attraction was fried catfish and onion rings is itself illogical but
attract people they did. From the rich and famous to the farmers and factory
workers of the surrounding area, Miller’s became a dining establishment
where the wait for a table could last up to two hours. Yet, people were willing
to endure the wait to satisfy their cravings. Cravings so intense that some
were unwilling to evacuate the restaurant during a 1980 fire until they were
served their food.
Fish Story: The Millers of Colfax is the story of
how the Miller families worked to make their dreams come true and how they endeared
themselves to legions of loyal customers. The story is complete; from the moment
Mary Ellen Miller watched an attempted murder occur outside the business her
husband had just purchased, to the sale of the restaurant to outside interests
in 1995, to the destruction of the property in December 2000 at the hands of
Fish Story: The Millers of Colfax is about people.
The Miller family, its cadre of loyal and hard working employees, the residents
of Colfax, Indiana and the tens of thousands of customers who frequented Miller’s.
It’s a story about building a business in a small town that may never
be repeated, but it is a story that could be used as a blueprint for those willing
to make the attempt.