In 1888, Jonathon Wesley Laughner opened a candy store, the Boston Confectionery, at 4 Indiana Avenue. About 1900 the confectionery was remodeled and renamed Laughner’s Dairy Lunch. The restaurant was unusual because of its new cafeteria-style service, one of the first in the Midwest. Customers selected meals from a glass cabinet where the food was displayed. Novelty, convenience, and increased public concern about cleanliness combined to make this new style of service a success.

Laughner’s Dairy Lunch, located at 4 Indiana Avenue, n.d. Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Jonathon’s son and daughter-in-law, Claude and Flora Laughner, expanded the family business in the 1920s, opening the Central Cafeteria. During the 1930s, the Laughners’ had cafeterias, usually two or three at a time, in a variety of Indianapolis locations. They also operated concession stands at the State Fair, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Riverside Amusement Park. There were a half-dozen stands at Riverside, each with a different menu featuring such treats as homemade root beer, caramel corn, and chocolate-dipped “polar clubs” or scoops of ice cream on a stick. The family also sold candy door-to-door.

In 1957, the Laughner Brothers Corporation was formed. The company introduced free-standing suburban cafeteria buildings with ample parking in response to decreased downtown dinner traffic. In the late 1950s, Laughners experimented unsuccessfully with drive-in restaurants before concentrating on suburban cafeterias in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s, the company operated 10 Indianapolis-area restaurants, with additional cafeterias in Kokomo and Terre Haute.

The cafeteria chain closed in 2002 due to a decline in popularity for cafeteria-style restaurants. Charles Laughner Jr., the last CEO of Laughner’s, converted one of the former cafeterias into a new restaurant, Loon Lake Lodge, in 1998. This lodge-themed restaurant, located in the Castleton area served American fare with a wilderness twist. By 2010, Loon Lake Lodge closed, ending the 122-year run for the Laughner family’s foodservice businesses.

Revised February 2021

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