Indiana’s Top Chefs featuring Harry Kilmer: Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill

WABASH – He clearly remembers the kitchen chair, the wooden spoon, the cake batter – all part of his strong ties to his oldest sister, Cindy. It’s led him to a culinary career and a move to Wabash, where surprising business assistance helped make his dream come true.

“My sister had me standing on chairs in the kitchen, stirring cake mixes or helping her fix dinner back as far as I can remember,” Harry Kilmer says. “She’s always loved to cook.”

And then, so did he. Kilmer was in perhaps 3rd or 4th grade when his parents came home from work to a cooked meal, courtesy of their elementary school son. The new stove had just been delivered; he hooked it up and managed to cook dinner. His grandmother always said he should be a chef, but he wanted to be a cowboy or astronaut.

As he got older, he had a series of jobs in a series of occupations – in a pet store, in insurance, in auto sales. “Hard as I tried to stay out of cooking, I always went back to it,” he says.

He was an adult when his parents moved to Florida. He followed and, because he’d never really taken cooking seriously, got some schooling in the food industry. He met Judy from Boston; they married. And his sister, who was by then living in Wabash, kept sending him job listings. “But there was nothing here that interested me,” he says.

Moves to North Carolina and West Virginia followed. So did those Wabash job suggestions from his sister. Finally, in 2004, Kilmer and his wife moved to Wabash and he became executive chef at the Honeywell Center.

“My favorite little hangout in town was the Old Kettle Saloon,” he says. “Nothing ever happened there.” But the camaraderie couldn’t be beat.

One night the owner suggested Kilmer buy the bar and serve food. 

Kilmer replied, “Sell it to me and I will.” That’s as far as it went. Then.

Less than a week later, Kilmer’s wife asked him when he was going to meet with the owner to buy the bar. “I always wanted my own place, but I never thought it would be a bar,” Kilmer says. “Deep down inside I knew I could do it.”

So the Kilmers brightened up the place and bought some used restaurant equipment so he could open a kitchen. But they ran out of money and put the kitchen on hold. He went to work at Taylor University during the day, at the bar during evenings and nights.

In 2015 the Deluxe Corporation – of business checks and marketing strategies – sponsored a “Small Business Revolution: Main Street” contest to celebrate its 100th anniversary. It provided a makeover for a small town; Wabash won. It included extensive help for six small businesses. Among them, Harry’s Old Kettle Saloon.

It re-branded the business to Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill, and it designed a logo, business cards, signage, menus and a website. It also finished the kitchen, bought
a smoker, tables and chairs, and provided accounting expertise. Four years after buying the bar, Kilmer began serving food.

“Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill isn’t just another eatery; it’s an establishment that has stood the test of time, defied industry odds and now stands as a community gathering place for generations to come,” reads the website for the program. Stories about Harry’s and the other five businesses are online at smallbusinessrevolution.org.

Chef Kilmer proudly serves a variety of sandwiches and sides that are a huge step above bar food. They include The Judy (Judy Kilmer’s Boston take on the cheesesteak sandwich), Memphis pulled pork sandwich, pork tenderloin, and the Dirty Harry. There’s even a burger – the Pastor Brad – named after a local minister who likes to stop in. And plenty of alcohol choices. A recent beer tap count was 27, bottle count 37, can count 28. Wednesday’s bar special is draft root beer.

“I’m a bar,” Kilmer says. “I didn’t want to change the history and vibe of the bar. I didn’t want to lose what the Kettle was. It was always a great place to come, have fun and just enjoy yourself. I wanted to add food, but I wanted to keep it a bar that serves food, not a restaurant that serves liquor.”

Must be 21 to enter.

Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill
1633 Stitt St. Wabash, IN 46992
(260) 563-7317
harrysoldkettle.com