The story below is excerpted from our Sept./Oct. 2014 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our FREE web-based digital edition today!
Wait, Parker’s Seafood opened in 1919? Yes, and the Weiner Stand came along just seven years later. Here are personal perspectives on some of the valley’s oldest eateries.
By a quick accounting, there are 13 Roanoke restaurants that are at least as old as The Roanoker. There are reasons they are still around, usually having little to do with a 5-star status. They have followings, loyal customers who come back, bring their children, who bring their children years later.
People have stories about these restaurants and they scramble to tell them, excitedly remembering the day when …
I have eaten at every one of these restaurants, some more than others and I can’t say there is a single one where I didn’t enjoy myself at one time or another. Here is a quick look at each one.
Parker’s Seafood, 1919
Mike Ashley, freelance writer in D.C., Roanoke native:
“When I was younger, my mom (single parent) loved Parker’s Seafood, the older site on Peter’s Creek Road. Naturally, I thought it about as un-cool as a place could be for a teenager to find himself dining on a weekend night but saving my money to put gas (and oil) in the ‘76 flesh-tone Vega, I rarely passed up a free meal.
“When I got older I loved to take my Mom there to the newer location on my dime because she liked it so much. ‘You know I like to eat fish when I go out because I never cook it at home,’ she said so many times it’s now repeated as homily anytime anyone in my family orders fish at a meal.
“For a girl from the mountains of North Carolina, Roanoke’s own seafood site was pretty exotic. I don’t live in town anymore and a friend lost his father a few years back. A bunch of us, then 40-somethings, were looking for a place to go eat after a morning service, and dang if we didn’t all decide to honor our parental predecessors, thinking Parker’s would be the perfect spot. It was.”
Roanoke Weiner Stand, 1926
Karen Chase, author “Bonjour 40,” former Roanoker:
“It sounds silly; the idea that buying a hot dog can brighten your day. I went through some pretty challenging moments when I lived in Roanoke, but each time I even walked by the Roanoke Weiner Stand and Gus Chacknes’ big smiling face, my day changed.
“He was there to remind me to do what I love. To enjoy even the simple, yet pleasurable things like lunch. I could plop down on a stool in the window, dump ketchup on fries, and watch the world walk by. The simple act of munching on a hot dog always made me feel like a kid again. So I would leave there happy, with a smile on my face for Gus, too.”
Texas Tavern, 1930
Matt Bullington, fourth generation owner of the TT:
“It’s the same here as it was in 1930 [when his great grandfather founded the restaurant]. Unchanged. We don’t monkey with the menu … except maybe no more bottled drinks. It’s worked. There’s a cultural mooring here. Society changes, but there are a few little things that people cherish because they’ve always been that way.”
My Take: In the late 1970s, when I worked in the sports department of The Roanoke Times, Friday nights during basketball and football season were crazy-busy in the office, taking game reports on the phone. Even when we went out to cover a high school game, we came back in-house, sometimes writing a dozen stories in an hour.
After work, I nearly always stopped by the TT and ordered two hotdogs (with onions), a cheesy western (with) and a bowl of “chile” (with). I’d take that mess home, spread it out and suck it down. Then I’d go to sleep. Amazing what a young body can withstand.
Coffee Pot, 1936
Mike Overacker, photographer and proprietor Overacker Guitars:
“I do remember one time at the Pot when a fight broke out in the pool table room. The bouncer, Charlie Nichols, got someone to watch the door. He stood up and walked to the back room. The next thing I saw was Charlie coming out of the back room with the head of one fighter under his left arm and the head of the other fighter under his right arm. He was moving so fast that the combatants couldn’t get their feet under them. He slid them through the front foyer and threw them out the front door ... by their heads. I couldn’t believe it.”
Arnette Crocker Tressel, voiceover for radio and TV, former singer:
“Bobby Webber, Roger Dixon and Danny Counts were playing at the Pot pretty regularly, promoting their album “Gowned and Bagged.” Theirs was a dirty Zappa kinda humor incorporated into original compositions that put everyone ill at ease until they had a few." (Read more from Arnette here.)
Jan Keister, Legal Aid Society of Virginia in Roanoke:
“It was my big Rock Star moment. The band didn’t show up at the Coffee Pot, so a bunch of local musicians came to play, but they didn’t have a singer, so I got on stage and sang ‘Texas Rain.’ It was fun, but no one was in a hurry to offer me a music contract.”
Cristina Siegel, Clean Valley Council director:
“About 15 years ago, I was very pregnant and had been a vegetarian for years. My body and everything else was telling me, you need MEAT! So my at-the-time-husband drove me from Bent Mountain into Roanoke and we entered the dark and shadowy Coffee Pot. Had never been there before, but proceeded to order myself one big ol’ juicy and delicious burger. Oh yes. The Coffee Pot shall forever remain the place where vegetarianism lost and burgers won.”
My Take: I had a story interview with the late Richie Havens late one afternoon at the CP before his show. Richie was an old blues guy who cashed in heavily on George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” I waited for an hour and he never showed. Only time that ever happened to me with somebody famous. My guess at the time was that Richie’d misplaced his front teeth and didn’t want me seeing that big gap. Friends later told me that he not only showed for the concert, but shared joints with them. I was devastated.