by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
Despite its Main Street address in Nashville, Indiana, “Soup to Nuts” restaurant is inconspicuous. Recessed in a back corner of the building complex just east of the courthouse, the cozy dining room and courtyard accommodate several tables. Diners eat close enough to the semi-open kitchen to catch a glimpse of Steve Shroyer in his trademark chef’s hat, whipping sauces or stirring soup.
Chef Steve periodically cruises through the dining area encouraging his customers to experience his cooking through personal interaction. “I really get a kick out of people liking my food,” he declares. “It’s like a big extended family. Ninety percent of our business most of the year is local and I love it like that. The tourists are nice, but I really enjoy that interaction with locals. People that enjoy food are my kind of people.”
People who enjoy food seem to gravitate to “Soup to Nuts,” tempted by flaky crusts, original cheesecakes and aromatic soups made fresh daily from pure ingredients. “I think it’s important to approach the concept of food as, not exactly a sacrament, but as something you should be fully conscious of,” Mr. Shroyer maintains. “Not just the nutritious value of it but the aroma, the atmosphere where you’re eating it, how it looks and tastes, the texture, everything like that.”
Intrigued with the culinary arts from early childhood, Steve Shroyer came to Indiana from his native state of Arizona when he was twenty. “My dad actually got me interested in it,” he said. “When I was a child growing up (the oldest of seven kids), every Sunday he would do the cooking.”
In 1973, encouraged to relocate by a former college roommate, Steve’s first Hoosier home was in Stinesville. “There weren’t any jobs in Stinesville and there weren’t any jobs in (nearby) Ellettsville, either, so I had to keep on going into Bloomington, where I got a job at the Ramada Inn,” he recalled. “Then I heard of an opening for a day supervisor over at the Ramada Inn here in Nashville (now `The Seasons’).” Mr. Shroyer then spent a quarter of a century perfecting his cooking and management skills in different area restaurants. They included Nashville’s “Hob Nob” restaurant, “The Left Bank” eatery in Columbus, “Country Squire” in Nashville and “Hob Nob East” in Columbus. He also spent a three-year interlude working in a Columbus gourmet kitchen goods store.
In 1978, Steve met and married Sylvia Swain. Their son, Alexander, and daughter, Amelia, have grown up in Nashville. “Sylvia liked to come to `Soup to Nuts’ for lunch. It was started by Kent and Christine Wilson. The original was located on Old School Way behind Grasshopper Flats in the alley. Just a little hole in the wall where this nuts shop was. That’s where the original `soup to nuts’ name came from. For a while they actually did sell roasted nuts. They had seats for about six people and that was it. They moved over here (Main Street) three years ago. About a year and a half ago Sylvia was over here and Christine said they were looking to sell it. She said, `Steve likes to cook, doesn’t he?’ So Sylvia came home and said, `Let’s buy it!’ And two months later we owned it,” Steve laughed.
The restaurant business is notorious for long hours and relentless labor. “I usually come in about 7:00 am and get the equipment turned on,” Steve said. “I make out a little plan for the day; things that need to be done, breads that need to be baked, sauces and soups to be made. I do all the ordering, inventory, keep my own books, payroll. I have about seven people on the payroll —two full time and the rest part time. I have a full time cook, Tory Johnson—he’s excellent, real solid—and he cooks most of the lunches for me. Thursday, Friday and Saturday I come home for a few hours and then come back in around 3:30 or 4:00 pm to start getting ready for dinner. We open at 5:00 pm and I stay until 9:30 or 10:00. We’re closed on Tuesday but I usually come in because that’s when my main shipments come in. Also, if I want to get anything major cleaned up, like ovens or hoods or something like that, it’s the only time to do it. It’s not for the weak!” Steve Shroyer roars with laughter.
During his limited time off, Mr. Shroyer enjoys woodworking and, along with friend Mark VanDyk, has organized a Wednesday evening Brown County Chess Club. He is also compiling recipes for a possible cook book.
To balance his high-energy life style, Mr. Shroyer practices the Chinese meditation of Tai Chi, a choreographed series of body movements. “I do Tai Chi almost religiously,” he discloses. “I get up at 6:15 am, shower and shave and dress. Then I do Tai Chi outside unless it’s really cold. It is a particularly well suited form of meditation for people in the western culture. It fools your brain into thinking you’re doing something when what you’re doing is fooling the brain into doing nothing.”
Despite Mr. Shroyer’s busy schedule, he clearly takes the time to savor every moment. “You don’t need extra stuff that takes money to buy to enrich your life. All you need is to put your conscious attention on what you already have. That’s the secret, to me, of good cooking — being conscious of your ingredients; being choosey. Escoffier, the French Chef, once said that the difference between good cooking and great cooking is the capacity to take infinite pains.”
“Soup to Nuts,” located at 76 East Main Street, serves lunch from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm every day except Tuesday and is open for dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. If you’re looking for good food in Nashville, you won’t be disappointed.