By Traci Moyer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Slipping a quarter into an antique jukebox, Bill Pitts punched two buttons and watched a mechanical arm selected a 45-rpm record.
Within a few seconds, the rich and achy sound of George Jones flooded the room with a ballad of unrequited love.
The song caused the diners inside the Lemon Drop, 1701 Mounds Road, to pause briefly and their faces softened into an almost dreamy, faraway look as they listened to the music released more than 30 years ago.
“It’s nostalgia,” he said, referring the reaction of his customers. “We want them to have that little feeling that reminds them of when they were kids.”
Pitts said memories are what make his business so successful.
This year, the 1950s diner is celebrating 60 years of business, and while upgrades have been made, Pitts said he strives to make the interior of the restaurant appear untouched.
Pitts, 67, has not owned the Lemon Drop for the entire 60 years it has been in business, but the diner has been serving area residents that long. When Pitts was 25 years old, he bought the restaurant and in April will celebrate 42 years of ownership.
During those 42 years, Pitts has placed a basket of candied lemon drops in front of the diner’s register and kept it full – giving away about 30,240 pounds of the candy to his customers.
But it is not the lemon drops that keep customers coming back. It is the food.
One of the menu items the restaurant is well-known for is its onionburgers, which were named the best burger in Indiana in 1996.
“Not the No. 1 onionburger, the No. 1 burger,” Pitts said. “Do you know how many burgers there are in Indiana?”
The Lemon Drop’s breaded tenderloin is also on the Indiana Foodways Alliance “Tenderloin Trail.”
But if you are going to stop in and try the food here, don’t forget to try the onion rings.
“We put the one thing in them that other onion rings don’t have – taste,” he said. “I just don’t understand it. I go places and they bring out these fancy, beautiful onion rings all stacked up, but they don’t have taste.”
“How do they do that?”
Pitts said his menu is limited, but each item has been well developed.
“Whatever you order on that menu, you are going to like it,” he said. “We don’t take anything lightly and we want to do it right.”
Ronnie Reed, 71, of Anderson, said their flavored Coke products are his favorite.
“Especially the lemon,” he said.
Reed said he ate his first meal at the diner when he was about 13 years old and has been a faithful customer ever since.
A rough estimate of the number of meals he has eaten with his wife, Sylvia, at the Lemon Drop is about 1,560.
“And they were all good,” Sylvia Reed said.
“That is probably a low estimate though,” Ronnie Reed said.
Ronnie Reed said he not only eats regularly at the diner because of the atmosphere, food or to visit with other regulars, he enjoys watching the employees interact.
“It amazes me to watch them work together,” he said. “They have a certain way they stack everything and it is just neat to watch.”
Pitts said his employees are what have made him so successful through the years.
“My employees make me look good,” Pitts said. “I’m very proud of them.”
The employees also feel fondly of Pitts.
Sheree Titley, 34, of Fortville said her coworkers are like extended family members.
“He’s tough, but once you learn what he likes and what he doesn’t like, he’s great,” she said of Pitts.
Pitts gives his employees two weeks off with pay at Christmas time and around July 4. He also bought Titley a seven-day cruise, gave her paid time off to enjoy the cruise and $1,000 spending money after she worked 10 years for the Lemon Drop.
“It’s a team player job here,” Titley said. “It’s all a team effort.”
While the Lemon Drop’s 60th anniversary is special for Pitts, he said he is going to start slowing down a little this year and take an occasional day or evening off.
He has even thought about his retirement.
“Another 30 years and I’m out of here,” he said with a laugh.
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Off the menu Restaurant: The Lemon Drop Built: 1953 Address: 1701 Mounds Road, Anderson Phone number: 644-9055 Featuring: Dine in or carry-out food Specialties: Onionburger Decor: "The fabulous fifties" Seating: "Seating for 300, 27 at a time!"