Caleb Thatcher spent most of his career in the world of fine dining, in Indianapolis, working his way through about every role there is, short of the one he’s in now – ownership.
“I’ve worked about every station there is. Front of the house, back of the house, you name it,” said the owner of Charley’s Philly Steaks, the new eatery sandwiched (excuse the pun) in between Five Guys and Orange Leaf on East Boulevard.
It opened Dec. 13, and business started out strong, driven by word of mouth. With two of the nation’s buzziest eateries right next door, it wasn’t hard to be noticed.
A 1994 Taylor High School graduate, Thatcher said he fell in love with the restaurant business in his college years. He’s been in the business for almost 20 years, at Sullivan’s Steak House, Dunaways and the former Café Nora in Indy, all three among the most widely-admired restaurants in the Circle City.
His experience with Charley’s started when he was at Sullivan’s, and he would walk over to the old food court at the Keystone Fashion Mall to eat.
“It was love at first bite. It’s something unique, and different, and the food speaks for itself,” Thatcher said.
He’s now the front man for East Boulevard Philly LLC, and managing a busy crew which includes manager Jason Sell, formerly of the Sycamore Grille.
The menu offers variations on the tried and true Philly cheesesteak, the delectable combination of thinly sliced steak, set down on a flat grill along with onions, mushrooms and green bell pepper, all chopped together and seasoned, before being topped with provolone cheese and deposited onto a hoagie bun.
Try it with pepperoni, or with sliced chicken instead of beef. Teriyaki style sandwiches, banana peppers, hold the bell peppers … there are a million variations.
The lemonade is a big seller, and is more or less a traditional, expected item at cheesesteak places everywhere. Charley’s keeps it true to that tradition, while offering to mix in a bit of strawberry or blueberry puree. Kokomo, with its own tradition of appreciation for a good fountain drink, is a ready-made market.
Slowly but surely, Kokomo has started to see some variety in the standard fast-food burger offerings, and the steady march of customers at Charley’s on a cold Tuesday in January would attest to that pent-up demand.
Apart from the food, the location is the other big selling factor. Thatcher said moving in across from Chrysler Group LLC’s Kokomo Casting Plant, within sight of the busy Ind. 931 corridor, and next to the Kokomo Town Center mall and Kerasotes movie theater.
Sandwiches are made with quality meat and sliced super thin, so each sandwich can be cooked to order in less than two minutes. The grill crew members like to flip and click their spatulas like they’re behind an hibachi.
In the fine dining world, the rule of thumb is usually to get the food on the table either within 15 minutes after an order is placed, or just after an appetizer has been finished, whichever comes first.
At Charley’s, Thatcher has had to adjust to a much quicker pace, but said he’s loving it.
“You can’t rebuild from bad service,” he said. “That’s the one think you just cannot do.”
Started in 1985, the franchise now has more than 500 locations worldwide, between its two brands, Charley’s Philly Steaks and Charley’s Grilled Subs.
Charley’s is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, at 1610 E. Boulevard. Their number is 765-450-4901.