The Patio Returns – The Big Comeback of a Cherished Lee County Icon

PENNINGTON GAP – The Patio lives again! Numbers speak, and big numbers speak big things. The big numbers here are the droves of people who are visiting The Patio since it officially reopened Friday, May 5, 2017. Mr. Chuck Parsons is the new owner of The Patio, and he and his crew labored for three hard months to get the place up and running again since it closed in 2016. All that hard work is paying off in a big way as people show their support in the form of hundreds of drive-in and pick-up orders placed each day since the reopening.

“I started out with 14 [employees] because I thought that would be enough, but I’m going to put on another 4-5 to keep up with demand.”
Owner Chuck Parsons stands by the big sign at The Patio just outside Pennington Gap on Tuesday.

Though there is new ownership, much of what people love about The Patio is the same as ever. The menu, for example, is largely unchanged. Even the majority of supply vendors are the same as before, and–thanks to former owner Barry Calton–a lot of the techniques and recipes are the same, too! Parsons specifically makes great effort to keep the food as close to the original as possible because so many people happily remember it a certain way. Parsons noted, “I wanted to make sure [most of the menu items] were the same. The Chuck Wagon and fried chicken, in particular–that’s a big thing here.”

Another big thing for The Patio is quality. Take the ground beef. The beef, which is used in the Patio Burger and all the delicious burgers at The Patio, has no preservatives, and it is never frozen. Of the ground beef, Parsons noted, “It comes from Bob’s Market in Big Stone. They take cubes of beef–fat and lean–and mix them in the right percentages before they run it through an old-style meat grinder. It’s always fresh and ground every day. We know what’s in it, and that’s important.”

Familiar menu boards hang from the ceiling above a bustling kitchen at The Patio.
Familiar menu boards hang from the ceiling above a bustling kitchen at The Patio.

Folks come to The Patio from not only all over Lee County, but from every corner of the state and region, and even from around the country. For a lot of people, a taste of The Patio is a taste of Lee County. “A lot of folks over the years have told me that, when they visit Lee County, they can’t go back home without a trip to The Patio,” Parsons recalled with a smile. He went on to say, “You know there’s folks on Facebook from out of town–many of them hours away–that have asked us to make sure that we tell them when we open so that they can make a trip up here just to eat at The Patio. There’s one in Chattanooga that I remember specifically–somebody wants to drive six-plus hours to get a taste of The Patio–it’s amazing!”

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Car hop Kaylee Marcum checks an order before delivering it to an eager customer.

One of the things that folks travel for is The Patio’s fried chicken. “I think it’s the best chicken in the United States,” Parsons said. The Patio’s fried chicken is famous regionally, and it has long been a staple on the menu. Parsons praised Barry Calton (the former owner) saying, “The chicken is one big area where Barry has been a tremendous help. He has been wonderful in sharing the recipe with us, and in taking the time to show us exactly how to fry it so it comes out just right.”

About the Caltons, Parsons went on to say, “Cecil Calton, Barry’s dad, when he broke ground for this place in June of ’65, he didn’t have any idea what it would–what an icon–it would become. Lee County really owes the Calton family, (Cecil, Jean, and Barry), a debt of gratitude for what they built here.”

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A delicious Patio Banana Split.

The official first day was Friday, May 5, but Parsons said that they had a surprise, sneak-peak open the day before on Thursday. Parsons said he expected a few people to stop by, but sparking up the grill that day turned out to by the spark heard ‘round Lee County, with word of their opening spreading like wildfire and before the day was over Parsons and his staff had taken, prepared, and served over 200 orders! He said, “I had to step out to run an errand, by the time I got back I didn’t have a place to park!”

Hundreds more orders came in each day over the weekend in a boom that is still going strong as of today (Tuesday, May 9, 2017).

The influx of business, fueled by pent-up demand proved to be overwhelming at moments throughout opening weekend, but, undeterred, Parsons and his crew remained grounded and worked together to solve problems as they occurred without losing sight of the goal: feeding droves of hungry and adoring fans. Parsons credited his crew, saying, “I couldn’t have hired a better group of employees; they have worked hard and stuck right in there without complaining: just working to improve things.”

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Holly Woodard and Natasha Bishop are all smiles and ready to serve at The Patio.

Parsons acknowledged that the wait times have been longer than expected, but he wants everyone to know that he appreciates their patience and that wait times will improve as they streamline their work flow.

One thing, though, that does add to wait time that he will not compromise on is making food only when it is ordered. “Freshness is important, and we will not pre-cook anything. The thing we’re working on is when the burger is frying, we’ve got to figure out exactly when to drop the fries, onion rings or mushrooms (all with different cook times) so that everything is ready at the same time. It’s a lot to work on, but we are getting there.” He appreciates everyone’s patience, and feels that most people do favor quality first.

Connie Bruner stops in and picks up an order from Hayley Peake at The Patio on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.
Connie Bruner stops in and picks up an order from Hayley Peake at The Patio on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Having The Patio back not only feeds people who drive-in, but it feeds the people who work there and their families, too—in the form of a steady paycheck. Reopening The Patio created several jobs, with more on the way. Parsons reported, “I started out with 14 [employees] because I thought that would be enough, but I’m going to put on another 4-5 to keep up with demand.”

Parsons made a point to thank the public and loyal fans of The Patio for their incredible support during the preparations and reopening of the beloved Lee County eatery. He also appreciates the public’s understanding and patience as he and his staff refine their techniques bringing you the best, most delicious food possible.

Positive impact on tourism? Check. Economic benefits? Check. Civic pride? Check. Having The Patio, a cherished icon, open again is a trifecta for our county. Be sure to visit them whenever you crave that iconic taste and the experience that is The Patio.

The Patio is located at 43498 Veterans Memorial Highway, Pennington Gap, VA. You can visit The Patio from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Patio is closed on Sundays. Normal operating hours are 11-9 M-R, 11-10 F&Sa, Tuesday Open, CLOSED SUNDAY. Regarding Sunday closure, Parsons said, “I didn’t even think it was an option.” Though it is closed on Sunday, The Patio is now open on Tuesdays, unlike before the closure.

The parking lot was filling to the brim at The Patio on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.
The parking lot was filling to the brim at The Patio on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

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