A taste of history

Photo ProvidedErin Gerling serves Pax Rudisel and his family in the Tiffany Room at Maple Corner. The restaurant in Covington, Ind., recently reopened.

COVINGTON, Ind. — Customers who enjoyed the history, the food and the ambience of Maple Corner in the past are happy to see the familiar “face” is back.

“I used to come here with my folks, and my dad got the catfish,” said Tammy Nickle of Covington as she waited for her lunch. “I’m happy they have whole catfish, and the bread tastes very similar to what it was before.”

She and her friends said they’ve heard a lot of positive comments about the landmark reopening.

The new owners and staff are pleased to hear similar comments since reopening in June.

The restaurant, founded in 1931, is now owned by Chris and Lori Marxmiller, who live in Atlanta, but return often to visit relatives and would like to move back someday. Chris is a graduate of Covington High School and Lori graduated from North Vermillion High School.

They moved to Georgia in 2006, and run Lori’s Transportation & Excavation.

“I remember it back in the day. It was booming,” said Lori, who used to work at Maple Corner and had her wedding reception at the restaurant. “People would wait 45 minutes to an hour for a seat.”

The couple bought the restaurant in September, Lori said, adding, “We knew something could be done, but didn’t know what. It desperately needed tender loving care and cleaning.”

The couple put on a new roof and replaced the carpeting, enlarged the size of the bar and turned a back room into a billiards/dining room with a TV. They kept the Tiffany lamps, but replaced some of the others with Edison lights.

The favorites are back, such as catfish and prime rib, which uses the original recipe for marinade. The bread is baked on site, and the salad dressing recipes are original.

“We brightened up everything and added greenery, so it’s a more modern feel,” she said.

The Marxmillers also kept some familiar items, such as the large Hummel figurine, “Merry Wanderer,” from Europe, a fish tank and the 1940 Wurlitzer jukebox in the lobby.

Also in the lobby is a photo of Jim Cunningham, who owned the restaurant with his wife, Jean, from 1973 to 2006, almost 33 years.

“Jean thanked me and my husband for breathing new life into the restaurant,” Lori said. “That means a lot that she appreciates it.”

Jean Cunningham, who lives in rural Covington, said, “I’m very excited and so are my children. They’re happy to see it’s up and going again.”

Cunningham said she likes the changes, but is glad to see how much was left unchanged.

HERE FOR LONG HAUL

Shar Darwish, manager, said, “I’m really happy to see the place back open and like it was. We’re here for the long haul.”

The entire building is being used, Darwish said, and it can seat 350 people. There are more than 80 employees.

One of the biggest changes was enlarging the bar, which features huge windows, copper panels and a counter with more than 20,000 pennies embedded in the top. People may eat in the bar. There are specials most days, such as Appy Hour from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and St. Louis ribs on Fridays.

Another big change is that the Peacock Room, which still has a stained-glass peacock window, holds eight pool tables and has a sports bar theme. There’s room for diners who want more casual bar food or for those who want a nice meal.

There’s free pool every night except Wednesday and Thursday nights, when pool leagues use the table. However, that room is in the back, and other diners in the restaurant cannot hear the noise or music, he said.

People drive to Indianapolis for pool tournaments, Lori said, so this was an activity that was needed. There’s even a Facebook page for Maple Corner Billiards.

The restaurant retains its individual meeting/dining rooms. Each of the eight rooms has a theme. The Vineyard Room, for example, features stained glass with a grapes theme. The Tiffany Room has 15 hanging lamps made by Jim Cunningham and his staff 30 years ago; professional artists made the stained glass windows.

The Tulip Room once was a school house room moved here from Rob Roy, Ind., and the East Terrace Room also used to be part of another building. There’s a full bakery downstairs, and a full kitchen with new equipment. Darwish said it takes 22-25 staff just to run the kitchen.

“It’s like a war zone” on Friday and Saturday nights, he said with a smile.

The lobby features an oak podium and reception area carved by Zach Thomas in 1978. Oak trim gives the restaurant its rustic look.

Darwish praised the Cunninghams for making the restaurant what it is today.

“Jim put his heart and soul into everything done here,” Darwish said. “There’s a lot of history here.”

Lori agreed, saying, “I want people to remember Jim and Jean.”

HISTORY

Bill and Sadie Young opened the restaurant in 1931 as a road house, during a time when people were traveling more. Originally, there was a bar room, a dining room and kitchen, as well as a gas station out front and cabins in the back.

The cabins were gone by the time the Cunninghams bought Maple Corner in 1973. It opened on the couple’s second wedding anniversary.

They transformed a 50-seat restaurant that served primarily catfish to a 500-seat destination restaurant serving steak and seafood. Today, it seats 350, due to losing seats in the billiards room.

“It was an active business,” Jean recalled. “We ate at Maple Corner as newlyweds most Friday nights.”

When they bought it, Jean was a teacher in Bismarck schools and Jim was a farmer in the Bismarck area. He died in 2013.

“He was always interested in food,” she said of her husband. “A lot of the recipes he developed with the input of the staff.”

She provided a recipe from her Polish-background family, pierogis. A bakery was added in the early 1980s. When the couple sold the business in 2006, all of the recipes went with it.

The Cunninghams expanded the dining room in 1975, and the Peacock Room had its last expansion in the early 1980s.

“It’s good to see them busy again,” she said. “I wish them all the luck in the world.”

FYI

For more information, call (765) 793-2224 or go to its Facebook page to see the daily specials and bar specials.

The restaurant at 1126 Liberty St. is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. All times are Eastern Daylight.