At 11 a.m. Friday, Pat and Londus Stamper of Richmond stepped through the doors of the Parkette Restaurant's 90-seat garage expansion.
For the Stampers, who have been married and coming to Parkette for more than 50 years, it was time for Poor Boys, the restaurant's signature dish, which Pat Stamper called "the best hamburger in the world." The pair had spent 15 minutes in the parking lot waiting to get inside.
The Stampers used to bring their three children to Parkette as a once-a-week treat. They kept coming after the kids grew up.
Parkette's expansion is the brainchild of owners Randy and Jeff Kaplan. The garage doors will be opened when the weather allows, providing garage dining al fresco.
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Jeff Kaplan's design, built by Fields Construction, resembles a giant 1950s mechanic's garage, complete with old-time signs and a full-size light-up Sinclair gasoline pump, the one with the green dinosaur on it.
Shiny silver tables and chairs abound, and before the first-day lunch crowd starts to fill the new dining room with the aroma of big burgers and ample onion, there is the faint scent of freshly cut wood and new paint.
To say that Parkette has been a New Circle Road fixture forever is not far from the truth.
Joe Smiley opened the carhop-staffed restaurant in 1951, when New Circle Road was a gravel path from North Broadway to Liberty Road. The distinctive Parkette sign with the green-suited waitress leaning in to deliver food to the parking bays was erected in 1957.
The expansion allows Parkette to serve large parties, Jeff Kaplan said. Patrons can now eat at the carhop bays, on an outside patio, in the dining room or in the garage addition. The older dining area at the front of the restaurant can hold more than 40 people.
Kaplan, who owns the Parkette with his brother Randy, points to a garage picture on the wall to the left of the garage entrance. The '50s garage look was his inspiration.
The new space blends old and new. The garage atmosphere is retro, Randy Kaplan said, but the cash register is the latest in touch-screen technology.
The Parkette menu also has evolved, he said, with the addition of some "premium products" such as the hot brown burger.
The additional space will finally allow Parkette to catch up with customer demand, Jeff Kaplan said.
"We literally had people walking away every day" because of a lack of seating, he said.
Parkette's Dine-In Garage Grand Opening
Where: 1230 East New Circle Road
When: All day Aug. 10
Featuring: Prizes including a $50 Parkette gift certificate, WWE tickets, Parkette T-shirt and hats
For more information: Theparkette.com; (859) 254-8723