When it comes to Roanoke, it can be said that Pete Eshelman, co-owner with his wife, Alice, of Joseph Decuis restaurant and farm, helped put this rural town on the map.
In 1986, when Eshelman was recruited to northeast Indiana by Lincoln National Life Insurance, he, Alice and their growing family chose to live in Roanoke, and a few years later when he decided to go out on his own and start a sports and entertainment insurance company, he based it in Roanoke.
“I thought Roanoke was pretty cool and at the time it had some old buildings that I could afford to purchase. It was close to the farm where we lived and the airport, and that was the beginning of my involvement with Roanoke,” Eshelman said.
As his insurance business grew, Eshelman acquired more buildings downtown and restored them. Eshelman said he made the choice early on that he was going to preserve the historical character of the buildings and maintain the charm of this turn-of-the-century town.
“The insurance business was the economic driver for my involvement with Roanoke,” he said. “I think understanding the area's history was huge because it gave the area distinction. People who live here are proud of Roanoke's history. We helped to create something special because the community became the caretakers of this historic frontier town.”
As Eshelman was busy growing his insurance business, his wife got involved with the Roanoke community and helped to establish special annual events, festivals and programs.
The nationally award-winning Joseph Decuis restaurant began as a private dining room for Eshelman's clients when they were in town.
“In 2000, we opened the restaurant to the public and it became the economic driver for downtown Roanoke,” Eshelman said. “The restaurant was the anchor that drew other businesses; in the last 10 years between the restaurant and inn we own, along with the shops, additional restaurants and the winery down the road, Roanoke has become a destination.”
The restaurant has consistently earned the Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator, AAA's Four Diamond Award, and was voted Indiana's No. 1 restaurant (and one of the top 50 in the United States) by Open Table. It was also recently recognized by Open Table as one of the top 100 eco-friendly restaurants in America.
“When we started the restaurant, its mission was to be one of the top fine-dining establishments in the country. We started the farm so we could ensure we had great food and began raising our own produce and raising the renown Japanese wagyu beef which brought international attention to the restaurant and farm,” Eshelman said.
Joseph Decuis is the only restaurant in the U.S. to raise its own wagyu beef. Eshelman was recently appointed president of the America Wagyu Association.
The Eshelmans are continuing to bring attention to northeast Indiana with their high-quality and innovative cuisine with the announcement that they will open a spinoff of its Joseph Decuis restaurant with a more casual approach in Fort Wayne's Electric Works project.