ARTHUR — Ervin Kauffman visits Yoder’s Kitchen, a local homestyle restaurant, often. Sometimes he arrives alone. “But I get visitors,” he said. “They just sit down with me.”
It’s not difficult to find company at the popular restaurant. Yoder’s has built a tasty reputation for its made-from-scratch cooking and equally homey atmosphere. The restaurant recently completed renovations and keeps packing in the patrons.
Located in Arthur, a small town of a little more than 2,000 people, the restaurant staff feeds people from all over Central Illinois and beyond with a full menu of comfort food favorites. Groups travel from larger cities, such as Decatur, Champaign and Mattoon, just for Yoder’s traditional meals.
“It’s not uncommon to walk through the restaurant and not have anyone from Arthur sitting here,” said Anna Herschberger, 51, who has owned Yoder's with her family since Aug. 1, 2002.
Yoder’s Kitchen became a staple as an Arthur restaurant in 1994. Herschberger was one of the waitresses.
Before the building became recognizable as Yoder's Kitchen, Das Huber Haus served food in the front area and held auctions in the back.
Herschberger said she was hesitant when the Yoder family offered to sell her the business more than 15 years ago: “Because I was working here and did have a little bit of history, I guess they felt I would be qualified to do it.”
Yoder’s Kitchen has an Amish feel — the delicious smells of freshly prepared food, the murmur of friendly conversation from all those visitors and a welcoming atmosphere that says make yourself at home.
Sandy Dolan of Arthur visits the Yoder’s Kitchen often with friends and family. “It’s a very friendly environment,” she said.
Dolan meets with friends during a weekly breakfast. Idalene Watkins of Arthur joins them, along with her daughter Nancy Snoddy when she visits from Charleston once a week. Yoder’s is often one of their weekly stops.
“I like to see people that I know,” Snoddy said.
The ladies agree Saturdays at Yoder’s will have visitors from all over the region.
“It’s the buffet,” said Betty Trout. “That’s what I like best.”
Another draw is the gift shop located inside the restaurant. Trout said she has purchased books, clothing, picture frames. “And a little bit of everything,” she said. “But I just enjoy looking and browsing around.”
“In a small town, it is a great place to come to if you happen to need a gift,” Watkins said.
Although she said she no longer follows Amish customs, Anna Herschberger was raised in an Amish family and has kept many of the important beliefs, especially in the kitchen.
“My mom was an amazing cook and served meals in her home for many years,” said Herschberger, who said her mom was known for serving guests on the front and back porches of her home.
So when the Herschbergers built a 4,500-square-foot addition to the main restaurant two years ago, they lovingly called the new area "The Porch."
“Which added 85 more seats,” she said. “And we added a specific carry-out area and we added catering.”
Since the restaurant was feeding more people, the staff need more space behind the scenes. One of the favorite additions is the dish room.
“It was just too small, and we couldn’t get our dishes done fast enough,” said Derrick Herschberger, manager and Herschberger’s second son.
The special room has an area for dish soaking: “Like a Jacuzzi,” said manager and Herschberger’s oldest son Daren.
A power soaker and larger automatic dishwasher are part of the assembly line.
In 2006, the restaurant gained its own bakery where cookies, angel food cakes and cinnamon rolls are made.
“And we make all of our own breads in-house,” Daren Herschberger, 31, said.
The Herschbergers said the goal of the additions was to make the business more welcoming to the public. When they began the renovations two years ago, they included bathroom improvements, additional dining areas and a large banquet room.
“We have increased our business,” Anna Herschberger said. “We are busier, because of it.”
The food, however, has remained the same.
“It’s all home cooking,” Anna Herschberger said.
The staff is able to accommodate large groups without prior notice. “People just walk in. They have 25 with them, and they don’t call ahead,” Anna Herschberger said. “We have room for them.”
The family said the food is the draw. “And the atmosphere,” she said.
“Our waitresses and staff have been here awhile, too,” Derrick Herschberger, 29, said. “They get to know them. That brings them back.”
The Herschbergers said they do little advertising, but reputation travels pretty far.
“We are doing more on Facebook,” Derrick Herschberger said. “But it’s mainly word of mouth.”
The catering business has grown through the grapevine as well.
Holidays and festivals are big business for Arthur, as well as the restaurant. “The Arthur fireworks is our busiest day of the year,” Herschberger said.
Herschberger said she is looking forward to retiring and leaving the business to her sons someday. The two men have been fundamental in the growth of the restaurant.
It's been a successful business model: Family will always be important to the Herschbergers, not only their own, but their customers' as well.
“It’s all about family,” Anna Herschberger said.