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Eateries cash in on TV appearance

September 2, 2010

The venerable Edwards Drive In on Indianapolis’ southeast side has built quite a clientele in its 53-year existence. But the old-fashioned eatery has attracted scores of newcomers since its national television debut last month.

Edwards, along with Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in Carmel and Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville, were featured Aug. 18 on the Travel Channel’s popular "Man v. Food" TV show.  

For Jeff Edwards, who operates the family-owned drive-in at the corner of Raymond Street and Sherman Drive with his sister, the national exposure has created quite a stir.

After the airing, Edwards instructed his staff to query customers on whether they’ve been to the restaurant before.

“Three out of five were brand new, which is an alarming amount considering we put 500 to 600 customers through every day,” he said. “It’s created a tremendous amount of travel business, because they’ve seen it on the show.”

"Man v. Food" visited the Circle City during Memorial Day weekend to coincide with the Indianapolis 500.

Host Adam Richman sampled the tenderloin, onion rings and root beer at Edwards, and the meat loaf and strawberry pie at Gray Brothers.

The episode culminated with a typical challenge, in which Richman this time strived to be the first to scarf down four, one-pound “Big Ugly” burgers at Bub’s. Richman, however, threw in the towel after failing to finish the third oversized patty. Only three patrons have eaten three of the burgers in one sitting.

The attention Bub’s has received since the airing has been “insane,” owner Matt Frey said. His 7-year-old burger joint near the Monon Trail in Carmel typically serves about 190 of its trademark “Big Uglies” during an average five-day, Wednesday-to-Sunday run. But Frey and his staff pounded out more than three times that amount—or 621 to be exact—the week following Bub’s appearance on the show.

Part of the appeal of Bub’s is that the patties are made fresh every day.

“It’s unbelievable,” Frey said. “Our staff is getting burned out, but it’s all good.”

Bub’s since has attracted visitors from as far away as Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Frey even received an offer from a gentleman in Atlanta who wanted to open a Bub’s in the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Frey declined, but he hasn’t ruled out further expansion or franchising. He and his wife, Rachel, launched their second Bub’s on Aug. 11, in Bloomington on Morton Street near the courthouse square.

“I’m convinced Bub’s would go great on a lot of college campuses,” Frey said.

Staff from "Man v. Food" contacted Bub’s “out of the blue” and visited on Memorial Day, he said, shooting footage from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Edwards, meanwhile, thinks a four-minute video posted on the eatery’s Facebook page helped attract the show’s attention.

“They ‘Googled’ breaded tenderloin and found us,” Edwards said, “knowing it’s a Midwestern staple.”

The drive-in has undergone a few changes since Edwards’ grandfather opened it as a Dog ’n Suds in 1957. Indoor seating didn’t arrive until 1978, after the infamous blizzard earlier the same year convinced Edwards’ father they needed to generate more year-round business.

A fire destroyed the building in October 2006, prompting Edwards and his sister to create an attraction where parents could bring their children to revisit the past. A jukebox only plays music from the 1950s, and a larger, 13-foot jukebox on the front of the building greets visitors as they walk through the doors. A replica 1955 Chevy and pink Cadillac adorn the exterior of the restaurant as well.

“We’re not in a major thoroughfare,” Edwards said. “We’re a destination restaurant.”

"Man v. Food" arguably has increased traffic to the drive-in. It’s plausible, however, that other Indianapolis eateries also could gain national television exposure.

The Flying Cupcake and the upstart West Coast Tacos are vying to make the cut for the next season of "Cupcake Wars" and "The Great Food Truck Race," respectively. Both shows air on The Food Network.

Kate Bova opened The Flying Cupcake in 2007. The bakery has two locations, on North Illinois Street in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, and on Massachusetts Avenue downtown.

Its audition tape for the show, which can be viewed on You Tube, prominently features General Manager Gigi Powell, who boasts that The Flying Cupcake baked 4,000 cupcakes in two days for an Indianapolis Zoo fundraiser.

“So what you got, like a thousand cupcakes for the contest?” she says in making her pitch. “What’s that to us; nothing, really.”

West Coast Tacos, in the meantime, just launched in June but already is making quite a splash in Indianapolis. Arnold Park and his two partners sell their tasty tortillas from a tricked-out delivery truck that sets up shop in Broad Ripple, downtown and other locations. They keep customers updated via Facebook and Twitter.

The taco entrepreneurs have begun a catering service and are in the process of adding a second truck. A second set of wheels would come in handy, if in fact they’re selected to appear on The Great Food Truck Race.

“That’s the good thing about having two trucks,” Park said. “We would have one in Indy and take the second truck [to film the show].”

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