From the mouth-watering Broaster chicken to the legendary coleslaw, Mel-O-Dee Restaurant & Catering doesn’t disappoint. But it’s more than food that has kept customers coming back for more than half a century.
“Everybody is family to us here,” manager Lisa Childers said. “I can greet 90 percent of our customers by name.”
It’s all about family at the New Carlisle-area restaurant that now has third and fourth-generation members of the Childers family on the payroll. Founders Virgil and Sarah Childers opened the Mel-O-Dee’s doors in 1965, and the restaurant has been family owned and operated ever since. The founders sold the restaurant to their children Leon, Linda and Woody, in 1974.
But family means more than a shared last name at the New Carlisle mainstay that earned the distinction of Best Diner and Best Family Restaurant in the Best of Dayton contest. Manager Charlotte Farley has worked at the Mel-O-Dee Restaurant since 1973 when she was in high school. Farley was a server for more than a decade before transitioning to manager.
“It has always felt like home to me,” she said.
The Mel-O-Dee is like a home away from home for many of the regular customers, some of whom eat there two or, even, three times a day. Some start their morning with coffee and the Mel-O-Dee ultimate omelet and finish the day with the Mel-O-Dee baked Swiss steak hot shot, on the menu since 1965.
Newt Litteral has been a customer for as long as he can remember.
“This is the best place around,” he said. “Great food and great service. People here really care about each other.”
Such care and concern was evident in 2017 when the restaurant sustained significant damage from a tornado. The restaurant’s air conditioning unit was blown off the roof and into the parking lot, a load bearing wall was damaged, and the awning was found in the woods miles away. It took more than a month to get back up and running, but re-opening was never in doubt.
“We have generations of customers that have come in here,” Childers said. “This community depends on us.”
The commitment to the community was clear during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when the staff quickly shifted gears to provide the same delicious comfort food their customers had come to expect as carry-out meals. Carry-out sales remain higher than pre-pandemic as customers continue to enjoy the Mel-O-Dee’s specialties on State Route 235 or at their own kitchen table. Even those who eat in frequently add a pint of the house coleslaw or a loaf of the fresh baked bread to their order to enjoy later.
While things are admittedly old school at the restaurant – with traditional paper ordering pads and a handwritten specials board – the restaurant has undergone two expansions, originally seating just 30 and now able to accommodate close to 200. They have also added several menu items over the years – including the popular lasagna dinner – but traditional items like the beef liver with steamed onions & gravy remain.
“If we change something and our customers don’t like it, they tell us,” Childers said with a smile.
Complaints, however, are few and far between at the restaurant whose slogan is, “At the Mel-O-Dee, our food will put a Mel-o-dee in your heart!”