BY ELIZABETH GRANGER
Photos by David Jacobson
The table is set 24/7. The candle is lit at 6 o’clock every evening. But the guest never comes.
He’s still missing, or he’s already gone.
And the owners of The Tin Plate restaurant know that. That’s their point. The table honors military personnel who have sacrificed the ultimate: A few are still MIA (missing in action) or POWs (Prisoners of War), and many have died. It’s a way for restaurant owners Pat Rice and his son Patrick Rice to honor them and to encourage their diners to do so also.
The Missing Man table has been set for less than three years – the restaurant opened in 2015 – but the Rices’ commitment to honoring the military goes back much further. Pat’s Father is a US Army veteran. Pat was an Elwood police officer for 28 years. And Patrick’s service began when he was a youngster. Trumpet lessons in grade school led to his membership in the world champion Star of Indiana Drum & Bugle Corps during high school. He hasn’t stopped playing; he’s a member of Bugles Across America and still plays “Taps” at military funerals throughout Madison County.
Patrick said, “I voluntarily play for as many military funerals as are called for so the family does not have to endure the military honors ceremony with a recording. It’s done live.”
As for the restaurant, it’s something the father/son duo had thought about for a long time. Both had already been in the food industry for years, and they were looking for a location in early 2015 when the building in Elwood’s American Tin Plate neighborhood came up for sale. There’s been a lot of remodeling – the new kitchen is much bigger than the original, for example – and there are already plans for an expansion to create a new bar and larger dining area.
The Tin Plate’s breaded tenderloin rapidly became their signature dish; more than 18,000 were sold in 2017. Also popular are fried and battered cheese curds; ribbon fries loaded with pulled pork BBQ, shredded cheese, sour cream and jalapeños; and a roast beef Manhattan with red gravy.
The father/son duo is big on backing Elwood. It started in 1962 when Pat, as a youngster, moved to the Madison County community when his dad was transferred here from their home in Connecticut. It was supposed to be for one year, but the family never left. Patrick has lived in the community his entire life.
In addition to honoring military personnel, the duo helps sponsor youth sports teams, school sports teams, sprint cars at Anderson speedway, the Tin Plate All-American Glass Festival Parade and local parades. Their restaurant is a mini museum of county heritage
that includes the story of the American Tin Plate Company, once the world’s largest hot mill tin factory in the world.
But always, in the forefront, is that homage to the military.
“You’ll see a lot of restaurants set up a (Missing Man) table on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, then take it down,” Pat said. “Ours is there 24/7. It’s there 365 days a year.”
“Because those guys are there 365 days a year,” added Patrick. “They’re not there just two days a year. MIAs, POWs, those buried in the jungle, unknown – they’re there all the time.”
“And they’re missed everyday of the year,” Pat said.
The display has grown. Veterans have added items, including coins. “The quarters are very, very numbing,” Patrick said. “You never look at a quarter again the same way. It means you were with a soldier when he died in battle. Look at how many quarters are on the table.”
The Rices credit Vietnam veteran Butch Lewis for setting up their Missing Man table. Through Lewis’ work, there’s an annual holiday party at the Veterans Administration hospital in Marion. The Tin Plate helps fund it through sales of its MIA/POW T-shirts.
The Tin Plate – feeding souls as well as bodies – was named the 2017 Elwood Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.
It didn’t come from selling tenderloins.
The Tin Plate
2233 S. J St. Elwood, IN 46036