You have to travel down a long and winding road that is off the beaten path to find Story, Indiana, but it’s well worth the trip. This road less traveled will take you upon a little town about an hour south of Indianapolis that seems frozen in time. And “little town” is an overstatement. The population: 3 humans and 4 dogs.
This once bustling community dates back to 1851 as a lumber town that later had a couple of general stores, a church, a schoolhouse, a grain mill, blacksmith shop, butcher and a post office. It was founded by a physician, Dr. George Story. But when the Great Depression hit, Story never recovered. Families moved away and the population dwindled.
One of those general stores burned to the ground, but in 1915 was rebuilt. The new structure had a second story that housed a Studebaker buggy production site on the second floor and general store on the first floor. In the late 1970s, a couple turned the general store into a bed and breakfast, the Story Inn, and worked toward restoring portions of the town. By 1992 it had closed and sat dormant for several years.
In 1999, Rick Hofstetter bought the entire town of story and he now resides there. It currently includes about a dozen structures, many dating back to the 1850s. Most of the structures are now lodging for the Story Inn.
The first floor that once was a general store is now the restaurant of the Story Inn, adorned with vintage tins and cans and other items that were once sold at the general store. Four upstairs rooms make up the inn, including one that has been dubbed the Blue Lady Room because various guests have said they’d encountered a ghostly image while staying there. In the lower level is a tavern that once housed an illegal still that was busted during Prohibition.
The co-owners of the Story Inn (and the other two residents of the town) are Jacob and Kate Ebel, who have both worked as chefs all over the country — Kate in fine dining and Jacob in resorts and some smaller independent eateries. The two met in Alaska, married in 2015 and decided to settle in Story, where Jacob, who is originally from the area, had worked previously.
Although both are trained chefs, the inn employs a full-time chef, Eric Swanson, as well as a beverage director and gardener, who tends to the wildflower patches and grows produce — tomatoes, kale, herbs and much more — that is used in preparing some of the uber fresh and creative dishes served in the restaurant.
The menu and wine list are anything but small town and everything is as local as they can get. Spirits, wines and craft beers are from Indiana artisan distillers, winemakers and brewers. Charcuterie comes from one of the top-rated butcher shops in the country that is out of Indianapolis and is served with house-made crackers. Beef, chicken, pork and fish are from local sources. Nearby hens produce eggs for brunch and local maple syrup is drizzled over pancakes. A visit to story is an experience on many levels, one of them being a fresh, farm-to-table meal. It’s fine dining in a rusty-fronted building that is sure to surprise and wow guests. Menus change weekly. Duck and bison are two staple meats that usually can be found among the entree choices.
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“Everything that Eric creates comes from his mind. We’re not asking him to make anything specific, so he gets to come in and make what he wants to make and my favorite things that he does are the beer dinners and wine dinners and distillery dinners because he can create things that he could never put on the menu,” Kate Ebel said. The pairing dinners often have dishes with alcohol incorporated in the recipe and have five or six courses.
On weekends from roughly May to October there’s live music on the patio with a summer grill for casual food. On the other side of the garden are yard games and a bonfire area.
At the height of their season, there are up to 50 employees. Jacob Ebel serves as general manager and Kate as the director of sales and events. On a tour of the grounds led by Kate, it becomes apparent that she wears other hats as well. She coordinates the 45 or so weddings a year that are held outdoors on the grounds or in the garden or in a barn built around 1905 that sits behind the inn and is being refurbished using reclaimed wood from barns in the area. She does all the decorating. She also waits tables or cooks when needed and whatever other tasks needs come up.
With Ind. 135 hitting a dead end just up the road, Story is secluded and peaceful. The road that once led to Bloomington was flooded in 1960 to create Lake Monroe and now Story is surrounded on three sides by national and state forests. The “distraction-free” destination has no televisions, phones or alarm clocks in rooms, which are decorated in Victorian country styles.
Story Inn hosts the Indiana Wine Fair each year, a huge event that draws thousands to try wines from around 30 different vintners in Indiana. The 16th annual Indiana Wine Fair will take place May 12. The Story Inn also hosts a popular Hoosier Hop Beer Fest that is on hiatus this year and will return in 2019.