Community & Public Service
Pete & Alice Eshelman
What could New Orleans, New York City, Japan, and Roanoke, Indiana possibly have in common?
Pete and Alice Eshelman.
The Eshelmans have secured their place in the top ranks of Huntington County entrepreneurs, initially, with Pete Eshelman’s very successful insurance business, then with a gourmet restaurant that brought the couple to the forefront of fine dining.
The journey began in 1976, when Pete, a New Orleans native, was drafted by the New York Yankees after his senior year at Williams College in Massachusetts. The Yankees shipped the strapping left-hander to a minor-league team in upstate New York, where he showed promise as a hard-hitting first baseman who would see occasional duty as a pitcher.
A shoulder injury derailed his professional baseball career after one season, but the Yankees recognized promise of a different kind – and he joined the team’s front office. There, he was fascinated by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s successful efforts to insure the guaranteed contracts of his high-salaried players.
It was in New York, in 1979, when Pete Eshelman met Alice, then an actress. They married, and Pete gravitated to insurance as his second career. In 1986 he took a job in Fort Wayne and three years later, with his brother Tim, started American Specialty Insurance in offices on Main Street in Roanoke.
Eshelman chose Roanoke for its proximity to Fort Wayne International Airport, and for its charm and unhurried pace. But Roanoke lacked a restaurant suitable for American Specialty to entertain clients. Across the street from the Roanoke office was a vacant bank building that American Specialty purchased and converted in 1996 to private dining space. Before long, though, the Eshelmans were being urged by their neighbors to open the in-house dining room to the public.
In 2000, they did just that. Joseph Decuis – named for a Louisiana ancestor of Pete’s — was an instant sensation. “We credit him for instilling out love of dining together and eating great food,” Eshelman said of Decuis in an interview. “We would always entertain businesspeople around the dining room table. If you think about it, that’s the way you build relationships.”
Joseph Decuis has been voted Indiana’s #1 Restaurant by Open Table diners and has earned multiple top awards from Wine Spectator magazine as well as AAA’s Four Diamond status. The restaurant’s success has established Joseph Decuis as a regional lifestyle brand, which includes a retail store, a pair of inns, and an indoor/outdoor reception experience at the Eshelmans’ farm outside Roanoke.
Pete Eshelman’s third career began in earnest in 2003 when he sold the insurance business to concentrate on Joseph Decuis and on growing food for the restaurant at his farm. The Eshelmans raise Japanese-style Wagyu beef on their acreage and are considered leaders in the “farm-to-fork” movement in fine dining. Pete and Alice Eshelman, having done much to transform the community they call home, now champion a culinary movement that could bring the Joseph Decuis-caliber dining experience from Roanoke to eager diners around the world.