- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

TIPTON, Ind. (AP) - Other than a familiar sign just outside the door, this does not look like Sherrill’s Restaurant.

But it smells like Sherrill’s when you walk through the doors at the CW Mount Community Center, sausage patties sizzling on the griddle. A familiar “hello” rings out from the kitchen.

The customary old voices fill the room with chatter and laughter, making it sound like Sherrill’s once did. The old regulars will tell you their favorite dishes still have that familiar comfort to them, giving evidence to the idea it tastes like Sherrill’s.

There’s no doubt it’s different. But, this place feels a lot like Sherrill’s.

And that means a lot to people in these parts, because the restaurant that was a staple of the community for over 40 years seemed lost to history.

“It was my livelihood,” Sherrill’s owner Debbie Neff said. “There were so many friends - these people became my family. Walking out that door was the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time. It was very emotional.”

Sherrill’s was located at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Indiana 28 since 1973. That’s when Neff’s parents, Bill and Ann Sherrill, purchased the building that had been Briggs’ Diner since the 1950s and set up a restaurant-gas station tandem. A cartoon caricature of Bill and Ann, and the slogan “Eat here and get gas” made up a roadside sign that added to the place’s homey feel and, ultimately, its popularity.

Neff purchased the restaurant from her parents in 1993, and all signs pointed to the operation running strong for at least another generation.

But, around the turn of the millennium, locals began to wonder if the development of U.S. 31, which began at the Hamilton-Marion county line and continued slowly creeping northward, would ever reach Tipton County.

The building of the Getrag Plant at the 28/31 intersection ramped up that speculation to a fever pitch by 2007. A bad economy may have actually saved Sherrill’s.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and along with it, transmission partner Getrag would never operate at the plant.

But, by May of 2014, all of that trouble for the economy and automobile industry was firmly in the past. Chrysler wound up back in possession of the 900,000-square-foot plant, and transmissions started rolling off the assembly line soon thereafter.

With it came hundreds of new employees and all the extra traffic associated with the full-scale operation everyone dreamed it would be, albeit seven years later.

Business boomed for Sherrill’s and other intersection proprietors. But it wouldn’t last.

In March of 2015, The Indiana Department of Transportation announced it was going to overhaul the U.S. 31 and Indiana 28 interchange, eliminating the stoplight, adding a pair of roundabouts, and offer unabated access for trucks to the Tipton Transmission Plant.

The project would require INDOT to seize the right of way of roughly 40 acres of land from 11 different owners. Sherrill’s was one of the casualties. INDOT purchased the property from Neff for what it called “fair market value.” Employees said their goodbyes to their patrons and locked the doors for the final time on Oct. 2.

Since then, Neff says she’s only driven by the old place one time. It’s just too hard.

“I don’t even want to go by there,” she said. “I would love to go look in the windows, but I just can’t. The sad news is it’s probably going to sit there for such a long time when we could still (operate). There were eight of us making a living off of that.”

One of those eight was Nancy Ripberger. Ripberger predates the Sherrill family, actually. She began working for Briggs’ Diner when she was still in high school, and was able to retain a job there when the ownership changed. She and Neff became friends instantly. They’re as close as sisters still today.

Now, Ripberger has been with the operation for 43 years. She says she can’t think of anything she’d rather do.

“I love it. You have to love it,” she said. “There was one key thing that sums up our relationship. (Debbie) told me the day she bought the restaurant from her parents that as long as she earned a living there, I would too. That pretty much sums up the relationship between us. We were still pretty young but I still remember that comment. I have told people that all through the years. That’s something that needs to be said.”

The group stayed close after the final day. They had a list of the phone numbers of long-time regulars, and gathered a group to get together and meet up for breakfast on Wednesdays. The group began to get quite large.

Just two months after Sherrill’s closed, Neff was approached by Roseanne Lord with the CW Mount Center, and a deal was struck for the restaurant to use the community center’s kitchen twice a week, Wednesday and Thursday, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., where Neff and Ripberger are back doing what they always loved, serving up their food and companionship to all the old regulars again. The only difference is it’s happening at 341 W. Jefferson St. now, and not at the crossroads it always had.

They spread the word through Facebook, and a phone tree of sorts, starting with the numbers of those old regulars they’d taken down. One friend called another with the news, and so on.

The community was waiting with open arms to welcome Sherrill’s back in December. Patrons pack the place during breakfast and lunch just like they used to five miles to the west.

“I love to feed people and make people happy,” Neff said. “I love to feed people good food. I like it when they are satisfied. That’s just what I’ve always done. I love to cook. I’ll come out and tell them it’s like my mom always said, ‘I make it with love.’ I just like for them to be happy.”

Admittedly, the CW Mount Center’s kitchen is not what Sherrill’s kitchen was. There are some differences, like the lack of a deep fryer, but they’ve made do.

Most of the time-tested favorites are still available. The Sherrill’s Burger, a bacon cheeseburger topped with coleslaw, is once again a hot seller. Breakfast crowds flock to the community center to get their hands on a savory breakfast platter, biscuits and gravy with potatoes and eggs.

“We do miss our breaded tenderloins,” Neff admitted. “We miss not having the deep fry, but maybe it’s a little healthier way of eating. And, it’s definitely still home-cooked comfort food.”

Neff wasn’t sure if there was a future for Sherrill’s when INDOT delivered its news 11 months ago. She didn’t think she’d be able to afford to move forward.

She’s singing a little bit of a different tune now. Nothing is for certain, but if nothing else, this two-day-a-week venture is keeping the Sherrill’s brand alive.

“It’s going to stay that way until spring, and we’re going to let the weather break before we do anything else,” Neff said. “We’ve had some other opportunities come around, but we’re going to stay here until we decide exactly what we’re going to do.”

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/1OEkxAQ

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com


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