Maddox Ranch House is steeped in more than 70 years of tradition, but it’s somehow been ahead of many restaurant trends.
Long before farm-to-table was cool, the Maddox was working with local growers who provide 65,000 ears of sweet corn and bushels of tomatoes and peaches every summer. Before meatless options were a thing, the Maddox developed its own veggie burger. When people began seeking healthier red-meat alternatives, the Maddox was already serving pasture-raised bison.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic closed in-house dining for several weeks last year, the Maddox was already ahead of the curve. As other restaurants scrambled to figure out curbside and takeout service, the company’s thriving Takeout Cabin was already selling 600 to 1,500 meals a day. And its old-fashioned drive-in with carhops had never gone out of style, routinely serving around 1,500 meals daily.
“Our drive-in and takeout broke sales records,” said Irvin Maddox, current company president and executive chef. “It was easier for us to pivot to takeout because we were already doing a lot of it. But our dining room was more than half of our business, and there was so much internal stress and changes employees were forced to go through. The dining room business is coming back as we are allowed to add more seats. A lot of people want to come in and eat.”
He had to lay off 105 of the company’s 270 employees but was able to hire almost everyone back through a Paycheck Protection loan, he said.
Pre-pandemic, the company totaled over 5,000 meals on busy days, through its dining room, drive-in and takeout. That’s a far cry from the modest little eatery opened in 1949 by his grandparents (and namesake) Irvin and Wilma Maddox. Since a restaurant in the middle of Box Elder farmland seemed risky, they constructed a log building on wooden skids so it could be easily towed away if it didn’t work out.
Over the years, the little building grew into a landmark destination, with seating for 380, and the 35-stall drive-in on the side.
Grandpa Irv’s skinless, cornmeal-crusted fried chicken was the early signature item, and the restaurant still cooks around 5,000 pounds of chicken a week.
According to family lore, Grandpa Irv came up with the chicken recipe while running part of his family’s ranch.
“He would boil a chicken, pull the skin off and fry it,” Irvin Maddox said. “It lets you have that crispy coating without having to eat the skin.”
Over time, Maddox-raised beef steaks became a draw. Later menu favorites include the house-created “Turkey Steak” and “Shrimp Steak” — breaded patties made from turkey and wild Mexican Gulf shrimp.
“Once we introduce something and it’s successful, we can’t take it away,” Maddox said. “Our menu has gotten more complicated every year.”
Customers might wait awhile for a table (hint: reservations are crucial!). But they are greeted with a basket of rolls and raspberry honey butter soon after they sit down.
“When I’m hungry, the worst thing is waiting 20 minutes before I get something to eat,” Maddox said. “So when you’re welcomed, it’s with hot fresh rolls in hand.”
About 9,600 rolls are made daily using wheat flour from Brigham City. The tender beef and lamb, once proudly raised by Grandpa Irv, now come from a Tremonton ranch. Each spring, Irvin Maddox meets with a Honeyville farmer to decide how much fresh corn and tomatoes the restaurant will need for summer. Mund Farms in Willard grows bushels of peaches for the seasonal fresh peach pie. And Farr Better Ice Cream of Ogden supplies ice cream mix that the restaurant customizes with its own flavors.
“It’s all super-quality and it’s fresh, and supporting other local businessmen and farmers is what it’s all about,” Maddox said.
The company brews its own root beer, cream soda and sarsaparilla sodas. The family drilled a well on the property in the 1950s to produce all the restaurant’s water.
“The well water helps our soda taste better, and all our recipes taste better,” Maddox said.
But there’s no liquor license. “We might be more profitable if we served alcohol; but it’s never been a formula for our success, so there’s no reason to change.”
Kids’ meals such as mac and cheese ($5.95) or chicken strips ($6.95) are served on a frisbee for added fun.
Building on Grandpa Irv and Wilma’s legacy, their son Steve Maddox became the company president and CEO in 1987.
“He took the company from a mom-and-pop operation to one that can be run by a management team,” Irvin Maddox said. “He was a thinker, a creative guy. He made so many different products and recipes that it was frustrating to keep up with all of them.”
Steve Maddox masterminded the above-mentioned shrimp steak. “And when my sister married into a family of vegetarians, my dad worked for weeks with seitan and textured vegetable protein to make a vegetarian steak,” Irvin Maddox said. “We don’t sell a lot of them in the restaurant, but they’re popular as veggie burgers in the drive-in.”
Steve Maddox also began serving bison steaks and burgers in 1998, and selling bison meat that customers can cook at home. The red meat is lower in fat and calories than beef. Today, a plain bison burger is Irvin Maddox’s favorite menu item. “It’s my go-to every day. I’m health conscious, and I like the flavor of the meat,” he said.
There were a few failures, too. “We’ve done pork dishes that haven’t worked out. We’ve tried pastas and vegetable dishes. But at Maddox, people expect a big piece of protein on the plate,” Irvin Maddox said.
In 2013, tragedy struck when Steve Maddox was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). That March, he shared his diagnosis in a meeting with managers, including his sons, John and Irvin. That October, he passed away at age 65.
The current generation continues the Maddox legacy, with Irvin as president and his brother John overseeing the drive-in business. Both have children who work in the business.
“It’s a matter of respecting the sacrifice from the previous generations, and keeping the business going and successful,” Irvin Maddox said.
Local old-timers have Maddox memories, such as trick-or-treating at the restaurant to get fried chicken instead of candy. Or of Grandpa Irv in his later years, sitting in the kitchen with his oxygen tank, prodding staffers with his cane if he thought they were slacking.
Jim Seely, who grew up in Brigham City, recalled when his elderly parents, Jim and Grace Seely, moved to a care facility. Their lifelong friend, Grandpa Irv, never forgot Grace’s love of his fried chicken. Every Friday night for about eight years, two complimentary fried chicken dinners were delivered to the Seelys at the care center, until they passed away.
Extended Maddox family members produced successful spin-offs. Cousins Chad and Ben Maddox started the popular C & B Famous Chicken in Layton, and Ben’s children opened a fried-chicken restaurant, The Bird, in Syracuse.
Irvin Maddox’s 20-year-old son, Charlie Maddox, jumped on the food truck trend last year. Charlie’s Rolling Bistro’s focus is on sandwiches — tri-tip steak, halibut, as well as the Maddox’s unique turkey steak and shrimp steak.
It’s one more Maddox family member looking to the future, while building on the past.