A January 15, 2009, fire destroyed the nostalgic, rock-n-roll themed restaurant, famous for its juke box filled with ‘50s and ‘60s hits, big burgers, bigger ice cream cones, pinball machine, and car hops.
Owner Paul Parker is not one to sit still for long—a reason he gives when asked why the ice cream and burgers don’t show up on his trim frame. Paul purchased the business from his father in 2005, got right to work on clearing out, cleaning up, and creating a new restaurant after the fire that destroyed the restaurant his father opened in 1982. A brand new Parker’s Drive-In was open by late August for customers to shake, rattle, and roll their way back to the favored site.
Surprisingly, some of the interior wall decor survived the fire, and Paul replaced other pieces and added new ones. Pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean, Buddy Holly, and additional legendary figures from decades gone by adorn the restaurant. There are no video games to capture the attention of young (or older) diners; instead, an old-fashioned pinball machine sits in the back, offering a choice of play for one quarter or one dollar.
Motorcycle clubs, a corvette club, and other groups periodically travel en masse to Parker’s, and specific theme nights are held from time to time. One such event will take place September 18, when the restaurant will host ‘50s Night, complete with a live band and customer giveaways.
“I like Parker’s because it’s a good group hang-out-kind-of place,” says 13-year-old customer Sam Smith. “It’s unique and has a fun atmosphere.” Sam counts Parker’s cheeseburger as his favorite menu item, but says he “switches up between the burger and chicken tenders.” His favorite ice cream is the chocolate dipped cone, “with extra chocolate,” he adds.
Diners have a choice of eating inside, in the car after ordering via the car window speaker, or at picnic tables in the front patio area, including miniature-sized tables just right for little tykes. From the very young to the very not-so-young, many of Parker’s customers are regulars.
“I would say 60 to 70 percent of our customers eat here three or four times a week,” says Paul, who was touched by customers’ offers to help during the rebuilding. “Regular customers would stop in and say ‘I know how to drywall, I can help with that’ or ‘I’ll help you paint.’ We had people stop in all the time and offer to help. We saw unbelievable support.”
Just 12 years old when his father and brother originally purchased the restaurant, Paul says seeing old friends is one of the things he likes about running the business. He enjoys seeing some of the same people in the restaurant today that he used to see as a child. “Everybody I grew up with or went to school with knows where I am. They come in all the time. I get to talk with people and keep up with their lives.”
Paul worked for his father throughout his teenage years, but made his home in Lexington after graduating from the University of Kentucky. When his father, R.D. Parker, decided to sell the restaurant, Paul moved back to Paducah with his family and purchased the business. Five years later, Paul and his wife Marni, sons Cole and Cameron, and one-year old daughter Cassidy, are happy to call Paducah home.
A small army of high school students works for Paul, most hailing from Lone Oak, but other schools are represented as well. R.D. still works at Parker’s four days a week, and Paul looks forward to his own children helping out as they get older. “Hopefully, one or more of my kids will take it over someday,” he says.
Other plans for the future are less defined. For now, says Paul, he’ll be happy “if things just keep going the way they’re going.” He thinks a minute and adds, “but I do have a fondness for pizza…”