Diners hungry for Jonathan Byrd’s fried chicken, meatloaf, chicken and noodles or turkey Manhattans can still line up to get them at the Greenwood restaurant.
But the eatery is changing. Owner Ginny Byrd is converting the 400-seat dining room into banquet space and moving the restaurant into the 50-seat carryout and bakery area. She wants to grow the catering and banquet business, which is the official caterer for the Indianapolis Colts and is the largest part of Jonathan Byrd’s.
In order to focus more on that side of the business, she had to shrink the restaurant, she said.
Byrd will be considering other changes, including possibly hiring waiters and waitresses to serve diners, because the way diners want to eat has changed over the past couple of decades. The business has about 120 employees, and downsizing the restaurant means some jobs will go away, but she didn’t yet have details on how staffing will change, Byrd said. She is dropping the word cafeteria from the restaurant’s name and will be changing the restaurant signs to reflect that.
Byrd and her husband, Jonathan, started the restaurant in 1988. The cafeteria-style restaurant has become a meeting spot for the Republican Party and a venue where governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence have spoken. Singers, such as Sandi Patti, have performed concerts at the restaurant, and churches have rented banquet space for hosting their services.
Couples have gotten married in the existing banquet hall, and families have picked up fried chicken to take home for graduation parties and birthday dinners. More than
5 million people have ordered food through the cafeteria line, and the company has served more than
13 million meals, according to a news release. Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria, located near the Interstate 65 exit at Main Street, still gets crowded Sunday afternoons.
The restaurant appeals most to customers age 50 and older, and the number of diners drawn to the restaurant dwindled noticeably for the past three or four years, Byrd said.
“I would have to say the generation that understood cafeteria dining has just gone away,” Byrd said.
“When you see that the dining room is not being fully utilized, you realize that changes need to be made.”
Her catering and banquet business, though, is large and growing, she said.
As she focuses much of her time on catering, the primary change diners will notice at the restaurant is the room size. Starting May 1, they will walk up to a smaller counter to order from the same menu, but in a smaller room in the same building, which is currently used for most of the restaurant’s bakery and carryout orders.
The larger room that had been the dining room will now be used for banquets, meetings and other events.
The changes will allow the 26-year-old Jonathan Byrd’s to be more adaptable as diners’ tastes change over time, Byrd said.
“They’re making the tough decisions they need to make to stay in business and stay relevant,” Christian Maslowski, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, said. “It’s been a community gathering place. It’s been a source of pride.”