Renovation recapturing nostalgia
Extreme makeover is pushing
Parkette back into the 1950s
By Andy Mead firstname.lastname@example.org
Brothers Randy Kaplan, left, and Jeff Kaplan plan to restore
Parkette Drive In. It might reopen for business in December.
The venerable Parkette Drive In is undergoing an extensive
renovation, and the new owners are uncovering some unusual artifacts.
As they took walls down to the studs, out came a 3-cent
stamp; empty Pall Mall, Winston and Philip Morris cigarette packs; and Falls City and Wiedemann beer cans from the pre-pull-tab era.
"We figure if the guy was 21 when he drank this, he
now is 77," said co-owner Randy Kaplan.
Yes, the Parkette has been around a long time.
A permit was issued to founder Joe Smiley in June 1952 to
build the restaurant on what was then called the Belt Line Highway (now New Circle Road) near Liberty Road.
There also was a second Parkette for a time, on Georgetown Road.
Belt Line Highway was a dirt road when the first Parkette opened, and the
restaurant was out in the country.
Joe Isaac, who opened Burger Shakes a ways down the road a
few years later, said Smiley once told him he could tell a customer was coming
by the cloud of dust from the road.
Smiley also said that city officials claimed they had
issued the building permit by mistake, and tried to close the place down.
But by then, the Parkette was the place to be — police had
to be called to unsnarl traffic on Saturday nights.
Randy Kaplan and his brother Jeff would be happy to see a
return to those times when the restaurant reopens, possibly by the end of the
The Kaplans were born in Philadelphia and grew up in Miami before
finding their way to Lexington.
Jeff, 49, owns half a dozen Subway franchises. Randy, 46,
is a former Lexington police officer.
After months of negotiations, they purchased the business
in July from a group of well-known investors that included Alan Stein, the
president and chief executive officer of the Lexington Legends.
The partners bought the restaurant in 2003 after it
abruptly closed. They said at the time that they were motivated by the desire
to keep a landmark alive. But they closed it again late last year for
renovations that never took place.
The Kaplans now are in the midst
of an extreme makeover that they say will make the old restaurant a showplace
of 1950s style.
"We are trying to preserve a part of Lexington
history," Jeff Kaplan said.
They are acting as their own general contractors, and they
are doing a lot of the hot, heavy work themselves.
There will be new walls, new floors, new roof, new wiring
and plumbing, new air conditioning.
For a while, the sign said the restaurant would reopen in
the spring. Now it says fall. This week, the brothers said December is a good
Jeff Kaplan said it will be worth waiting for, and he
talked excitedly about "the beauty of what we're trying to
The exterior of the building will be wrapped in quilted
stainless steel of the type found on diners of the era.
The interior will be have
vinyl-covered booths next to wall-size period photographs. There will be a
jukebox, video games, pinball machines, and Parkette souvenirs.
A covered deck and patio will be added to the back of the
building. The idea is for people to be able to sit there and see the many
antique and hobby cars and motorcycles that have frequented the restaurant,
Jeff Kaplan said.
The sign with the stylized carhop will get new lights and
The drive-in area also is being refurbished, and there
will be a high-tech twist: When a carhop brings the food to your car and you
pay with a credit card, it can just be swiped on a hand-held device that
communicates with the cash register.
The menu will be much the same, including the Poor Boy
double-decker hamburgers and hand-dipped and hand-breaded fried chicken.
But there will be an important difference, Jeff Kaplan
said: The food will be of a higher quality than what has been served in recent
"It's going to taste like it did when Joe Smiley
opened this place," he said.
And the brothers will add a menu item: Chicago-style hot
dog made of Vienna beef.
They had been thinking of opening a hot dog place when
Jeff drove by the Parkette and noticed it was closed.
"We thought this was meant to be," Randy Kaplan
said. "We can save some history. It's been in town 56 years, and we didn't
want to see it go away."