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Historical Photographs of a Charleston Restaurant that Became an Empire

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 9th, 2015

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.


Sometimes the cataloging of archival collections yields discoveries that document an interesting moment in history.  The Gravely and Moore archive is such a collection, its photographs capturing much of the history of Charleston, West Virginia.


Without knowing it, Gravely and Moore documented the beginning of a culinary empire in the Mountain State — the drive-in known as “Parkette,” which opened in 1947 in Charleston, West Virginia.  After successfully spreading across the state, it then franchised the name Shoney’s in 1953 and spread across the nation.  According to a 2012 article in the magazine West Virginia Living, the chain’s success peaked in the late 1990s, with 1,400 Shoney’s restaurants and 400 Captain D’s restaurants. 


This empire was inaugurated by the Parkette drive-in at 1606 Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston.  The following picture from the Gravely and Moore collection shows one of the early Parkette drive-ins from 1947-1953, and it could be the first one on Kanawha Boulevard:


Exterior of Parkette

Parkette Drive-In, Charleston, West Virginia, ca. 1947-1953. (Click picture for enlargement.)


Parkette advertisement for picnic dinners

Newspaper advertising for Parkette, ca. 1947-1952. Source:

(Click picture for enlargement.)


Interior of Parkette

Interior View of Parkette Drive-In, ca. 1947-1952. (Click picture for enlargement.)


The West Virginia Living article includes an interview with Betty Schoenbaum, widow of the restaurant’s founder Alex Schoenbaum.  She remembers when Alex opened the drive-in restaurant, Parkette in 1947:  “The first building cost $2,500,” she recalled.  She also remembers the menu:  “Now that’s when hamburgers were a quarter.  In fact you could get a hamburger, French fries, and a piece of strawberry pie for 50 cents.”


In recent years Betty Schoenbaum has been a philanthropic force in Charleston and the rest of West Virginia, contributing to a myriad of projects and scholarships that promote sports and recreation, the arts, and general welfare.


And it all started with a single drive-in on Kanawha Boulevard.


Exterior of Charleston Big Boy, with car in front

After Name Change:  Shoney’s Big Boy, Charleston, early 1960s.  Source:

 (Click picture for enlargement.)

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