INSIDE DISH: Meat-and-potatoes Murphy's makes subtle updates

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Murphy’s Steakhouse, the north-side meat-and-potatoes institution that has embraced a sense of nostalgia for its mid-1970s roots while making sly upgrades to stay profitable and relevant as tastes change and the gloom of the recession lingers.

As the low-slung design of the building and its carports might indicate, the property’s first incarnation in 1958 was as a Frisch’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant. In 1969, it began a series of concept and ownership changes that led to its purchase in 1977 by Jim Murphy, who dubbed the restaurant Jim Murphy’s Steakhouse. In 1990, he decided to sell to a two-man partnership including 25-year-old Craig Stonebraker, an aspiring restaurateur with whom he had an unusual connection.

“I was friends with Mr. Murphy, because once a month on Sundays I cleaned [the restaurant's] carpet,” said Stonebraker, who at the time worked for carpet-cleaning firm Bane-Clene Corp.

“Because of his and my friendship and his belief in me and his willingness to provide us with an opportunity, we were able to buy Murphy’s in 1990,” said Stonebraker, who purchased the eatery with his older brother Kelly.

These were no novices. Both their father and grandfather had owned and operated restaurants, and Craig spent a good deal of his childhood watching the inner workings of the food-service industry. “From the time I was a young man, I kind of had a feeling I was going to be in the restaurant business,” Craig said.

The brothers bought the business for about $125,000, lopped the name “Jim” from its moniker, and spent in the neighborhood of $30,000 to spiff up the joint and get it jumpstarted, including replacing carpeting and booths, printing new menus, buying inventory and insurance, and opening accounts with vendors.

“For six months, I kept my job at Bane-Clene and worked there during the day,” Stonebraker said. “Kelly worked days here, and then I got off at night and then we did the flip-flop, until we decided whether or not we could pay each of us—or one of us, for that matter.”

Business proved to be strong, in part because the brothers reinstituted lunch service that had been discontinued earlier. Craig bought his brother’s share of the restaurant in 1993. He then purchased the building and land from a separate owner in 1995 for $180,000.

Annual sales shot up over the years from $400,000 to more than $1 million. Once they hit $1.3 million in the mid-2000s, Stonebraker sensed that business had plateaued and started looking for new ways to generate revenue.

“I was well aware of how many calls I had taken on a Friday night for parties or 40, 50 or 60 that we just couldn’t accommodate,” he said. So, he decided to build a 1,500-square-foot addition to the back side of the restaurant that would house a banquet room and extra adjacent seating. He also created an outdoor patio that could seat 25 to 30 people. The total cost of the project, completed in 2006, was about $180,000 (prompting Stonebreaker to take a commercial bank loan of $100,000).

The addition ended up working as an effective hedge against the recession. Business in the restaurant began slowing in 2008, Stonebraker said, but the loss was offset by bookings in the banquet center. Annual sales have remained around $1.3 million over the last five years.

“So many times I’ve said, ‘Thank God we have the banquet room,’ because we’ve been able to maintain the dollars while traffic has slowed down in the restaurant,” Stonebraker said.

Although Murphy’s still bears a close resemblance to its identity circa 1990, Stonebraker has engineered changes to appeal to today’s diners. In the video at top, he discusses a recent revamp of the menu designed to please a more diversified palate. He also outlines his struggles to market the restaurant using 21st century social media and to keep the aging building in operable shape.

Another potential problem is the aging of the restaurant’s core constituency. Patrons tend to elderly, Stonebraker conceded, but new diners regularly replenish the supply.

“There’s always ‘new’ old folks,” he said. “We have a significant number of customers in their 60s, 70s and early 80s. Often, we lose people, long-term customers. I’ve attended many, many funerals, sent a lot of flowers, because we know our customers and their families. But there’s always new people that come in their 50s and 60s.

“There’s something about Murphy’s. You’ll hit 55 or 60 and you’ll start thinking, ‘Yeah, I think I want a Manhattan and a filet at Murphy’s tonight. And sit in the third booth by the window.' There is just something about the old-school steakhouse feeling here. There’s not many of us left.”

Murphy's Steakhouse
4189 N. Keystone Ave.
(317) 545-3707
Concept: Old-school neighborhood steakhouse, consciously clinging to a sense of nostalgia from its earlier days while updating its cuisine and expanding its seating.
Founded: Beginning in 1958, the building housed a Frisch's Big Boy restaurant. In 1969, it ditched the Frisch's label, and soon changed hands. It was purchased by Jim Murphy in 1977, then bearing the name Jim Murphy's Steakhouse. Brothers Craig and Kelly Stonebraker bought the restaurant from Murphy in 1990. Craig bought Kelly's share in 1993.
Owner: Craig Stonebraker
Purchase price: $125,000 in 1990, only for the restaurant business. Stonebraker purchased the building and land from a separate owner in 1995 for $180,000.
Significant additions: A banquet room, adjoining seating area and outdoor patio in 2006 for $180,000.
Gross sales for 2010: $1.3 million, with a profit margin estimated by Stonebraker at 8 to 10 percent.
Seating: 160 to 170, including patio and banquet room.
Goals: To add a new roof next year, as well as seal-coat and restripe the parking lot, for about $30,000. Also, for management to get a better handle on electronic marketing and social media.

  • great story-great eatery
    The very day before IBJ Murphy Steak House article appeared a very well known local executive talking to friends about a good place to eat told us: "Have you guys ever tried Murphy Steak House out on....." and went on to rave about his "new" discovery as as spot worth driving too. More power to IBJ for searching out great places already in place. Next time how about trying out that strangely named eatery on 31 North, outskirts of Tipton with the intriguing sign" "Sheryls--Eat Here and Get Gas." (Turns out the long ago gas pumps no longer active but this is a hidden treasure place to eat--home made everything crowded with local clientele as well as highway travelers snared by the sign. Try it Mason--you'll love it. (Maybe they'll present IBJ with their navy aprons with embroidered "eat here and get gas" slogan.)
  • Great placce for lunch!
    I've been going to this restaurant for 25 years plus and it just is a great place for lunch! The same people are there all the time as well as the staff. The food and service are excellent. The lunch filet, baked potato and salad with home made blue cheese is my favorite!
    We refer to it as "The Old Boys Club" because of the longtime clientel. I was 28 when I first went there and now I'm 54 and consider myself as one of the "Old Boys"!
    Keep on rocking Craig!

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Angela IS the best RD

  2. We are a nation of speed. All of our younger lives are filled with deadlines, quotas and bottom lines. We start to ease out of the pressured rat-race when we finally see "retirement." The most enjoyable travel on the planet is passenger rail service. Indy to Chicago does not beat Megabus or Southwest Airlines in speed. Passenger rail however has the best seating, mammoth legroon, seat backs that recline to more than 45 degrees and employers that really want you to return as a customer. Indiana municipalities need to maintain subsidies to support this transportation mode. Losing it is loss for all of us.

  3. Good day! I just want to testify how i got my loan from Mr. Eric Lefkofsky after i applied several times from various loan lenders who claimed to also testify right in this forum,i thought the testimonies where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan. Until a friend of mine introduce me to this popular Mr. Eric Lefkofsky who promised to help me and indeed he did as he promised without any form of delay. I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr. Eric lefkofsky who indeed helped me with the loan and changed my belief. I promised to share this testimony after I got my loan. I don't know if you are in any way in need of a genuine and urgent loan,free feel to contact Mr. Eric Lefkofsky via their email{grouponfunding@hotmail.com}

  4. Its a THUG issue. Bleecker Street and NYX are thug bars. They attract thugs of all races. Places that attract thugs need to be kicked out of Broad Ripple. Ain't nobody got time for that!

  5. Hello everyone, My name is Marian Gareth, I am from the Texas, United State, am here to testify of how i got my loan from Mr Andre Frank {frankloancompany@yahoo.com} after i applied Two times from various loan lenders who claimed to be lenders right in this forum,i thought their lending where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan.Until a friend of mine introduce me to Mr Andre Frank the C.E.O of Andre Frank Loan Company who promised to help me with a loan of my desire and he really did as he promised without any form of delay, I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr Andre Frank, who really help me with my loan and changed my lief for better. I don't know if you are in need of an urgent loan, free feel to contact Mr Andre Frank on his email{ Frankloancompany@yahoo.com} for help