LIZTON — Nestled in a sweet small town and cozily set up near passing trains, Robert Ecker and his staff have created an innovative and community-oriented business. And they know how to think on their feet.
“People love to come out here and watch,” Ecker said. “(To) see the trains roll through and sometimes even go by really slow, and we give them a treat.”
More than a restaurant, more than a brewhouse: This place has served as an essential resource for Lizton and the surrounding area, despite a destructive fire and a pandemic.
But let’s start with what landed Rusted Silo on the map in the first place: Its delicious farm-to-table food. Owner Ecker says their offerings are as locally sourced as possible.
“My favorite item on the menu is our free-range Amish chicken,” Ecker told WRTV. “It’s from an Amish farm up in Orland, Indiana, and it’s the freshest chicken that you could actually get. It’s super moist, super tender; you can’t really overcook it. And it just… creates such a wonderful dish, whether that’s a chicken sandwich, or a whole roasted chicken or, heck, even if I take one to the house and fry it. It’s an amazing bird.”
Ecker said they use beef from the Midwest. Pork on the menu comes from Indiana Packers in Delphi. And the restaurant’s side dishes – which Ecker says they’re especially known for – are seasonal. Their limited nature makes them even more coveted.
“(We’re famous for) our Mexican-inspired street corn that we serve during the summer – and it is only during the summer, when corn is grown within 10 miles of the restaurant,” Ecker said. “We have 3 to 4 farmers who literally do nothing else but grow corn for us.”
The finite nature of summer corn in Indiana means Ecker and his team must maintain integrity within the Rusted Silo menu.
“We get requests for (the corn) year-round, because people see corn at the grocery store,” Ecker said. “But what they don’t really think about sometimes is, all that corn we’re seeing in January, February, March, April here in Indiana, is coming out of somewhere in the South or even Mexico or other countries. So we try to stay as local as we can. We support our farmers here as much as possible. And we won’t sell any corn before it’s born.”
That commitment to community carries through into other aspects of Rusted Silo.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, WRTV learned how Rusted Silo and its team pivoted to a comprehensive and user-friendly online carryout portal. The restaurant was one of the first in the area to switch gears successfully.
“When you’re hit with such a life-altering change like the pandemic, you have to bob and weave and come up with unique ways of continuing to be successful,” Ecker said. “So, we did.”
When we last talked to Ecker in late 2020, crews were working on restoring the restaurant to its former glory after a fire. Since work has been complete, he says things have been better than ever. The restaurant’s interior looks exactly the same as before it was damaged.
“It’s like a second rebirth, rising from the ashes,” Ecker said. “The phoenix coming to life again and we just took off. It was like we never really had a fire.”
As if all that weren’t enough, Ecker and his team took their business one giant step further.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, people frequently had a difficult time finding common household items in stores: Things like orange juice, butter, flour and yeast.
So Rusted Silo transformed itself into something the community needed more than anything: A general store, selling the essentials. Things like bread. Things like milk.
“Things like toilet paper!” Ecker said. “We could get it because we were a food service vendor and we could buy it in big bulk items – or cases – then.”
Ecker says over the past 2 years, his restaurant staff were proactive enough to relieve the strain and stress of being shorthanded. And although they still deal with staff shortages, Ecker says things are good.
“Dealing with the pandemic, dealing with the fire, dealing with everything we’ve had to deal with the last couple of years… I can honestly sit here and say today, we’re doing great,” he said.
The light at the end of the tunnel became brighter for restaurants like Rusted Silo when people began dining in-person again. Ecker says as a restaurateur, his passion lies with the people he’s cooking for.
“I do this because, one: I love to cook. Two: I love to make people happy,” Ecker said. “And if you’re a chef and you’re cooking for people, and you can’t see their faces – you can’t see their reactions to the flavors of the foods, and the things they’re enjoying – that is akin to sitting in an office and creating a video game, and never watching anybody get to play.”
When asked where he goes when he’s craving someone else’s barbecue, Ecker has this suggestion for you.
“It would be worth a ride up to the Anderson-Kokomo area to Nerdy BBQ,” Ecker said.
You can find out more about Indiana Foodways Alliance’s culinary trails here.
WRTV Senior Content Manager Lydia Williams can be reached at Lydia.Williams@wrtv.com.