Soon after Southsiders Tim and Laura Ballinger had purchased the former Edwards Drive-in about a year ago, they sat down at their Southside home and thought about renaming the iconic site that was founded in 1957.
“We wanted to keep it with a ‘50s and ‘60s theme and were disappointed that the wall decorations on the inside of the building weren’t included in the sale, but the cars on the outside of the building (south wall) would remain; that sealed the deal (because) it would be a ‘50s joint,” Tim said. “But we didn’t have a name for it.”
That’s when their 10-year-old son Colton, a student at Edgewood Elementary School in Franklin Township, entered the picture.
There were several names kicked around on the table, including Cruisers, Rock ‘n Roll, Happy Days, Big Bopper, all ‘50s themed. Colton looked over the list and pointed to Happy Days. Not only did it stick, but Colton went to the computer and designed a new colorful logo.
Laura’s only stipulation was that it also be identified as a “pancake house” to attract morning patrons - a big transition from Edwards Drive-In’s reputation for serving lunch and dinner sandwiches, including tenderloins and coney dogs.
That’s how Happy Days Pancake House at the corner of Sherman Drive and Raymond Street was named.
With its new varied menu, the restaurant is all family, too. Laura and Tim are co-owners. Laura’s mom, Norma, prepares the meat loaf and various soups daily, including a tasty chili on Thursdays and Saturdays. Daughters Andrea and Erica also work there.
The Ballingers split their workday, making sure one of them is on site, while one picks up Colton, now 11, and younger brother Parker, 9, from school.
Happy Days Pancake House has been open for nine months, daily from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m., closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They have 18 loyal and enthusiastic employees.
“There aren’t many restaurants left that serve breakfast and sit-down dining; my wife has always been involved with breakfast places,” Tim said. “So this worked out perfect for us, especially to close at four o’clock so we would have time with the kids.”
Laura has extensive restaurant experience that began as a student at Beech Grove High School (Class of 1999) as a busser, waitress, manager and eventually co-owner. She worked at popular restaurants on the eastside - the Sunshine Café, Lincoln Square, and Blueberry Hill where she was co-owner there and later at a gyro shop on the westside.
Tim is a retired 17-year Marion County Sheriff’s deputy and served three years security at Eskenazi Hospital. He is a Howe High School alumnus where he played baseball. He has coached baseball, basketball, and football at Christian Park. He is a former carpenter who worked in Indiana, California, and Texas for several years.
“My main goal was to make this a pancake house because that’s what I’m used to,” Laura said. “This transition was real easy. We knew the business and just had to change the kitchen here. You stick to what you know best.”
On a recent Saturday around noon, Laura greeted diners and guided them to their tables. The restaurant was at capacity with plenty of conversation and good food, including their daily specials. They offer a big variety of breakfast items plus reasonably priced entrees, sandwiches, and burgers plus a $5.99 kids’ menu. Their Manhattan (beef, turkey, pork tenderloin, or country fried steak) covers the plate and is served on Texas toast. All served any time of day.
“We are blessed to have the best cooks; I’ve got one who is known as the ‘egg man,’” Tim said. “When the cooks found out we were opening a restaurant, they came to us. Some had worked with Laura before. She had all the connections.”
Tim and Laura and the wait staff take pleasure in meeting the diners.
“I’m used to talking to people; it doesn’t hurt a thing to talk to people,” Tim said. “People who come here like to talk with our servers, too. Obviously, I get to meet a lot of people here. This is a lot of work, but it is very enjoyable.”
Laura added, “They (diners) say it feels like home here. Everybody is so sociable, likeable, and nice; you don’t get that at a lot of places.”