Historic Lexington restaurant closes after 70 years

A historic drive-in restaurant is closing up shop in Lexington.
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 8:39 AM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A historic drive-in restaurant is closing up shop in Lexington.

Joe Smiley started Parkette Drive-In restaurant in 1951. His family still owns the business. However, others have managed it since Smiley passed in 2001.

The Kaplan family has been running it since 2008 when the restaurant had its last remodel. Bryan Tipton, Smiley’s son-in-law, says revenue was down. He told us the Kaplan family asked to be released from the lease.

“My brother and I, him primarily, decided we wanted to go in a different avenue. He wanted to go in a different avenue, I did not,” said Randy Kaplan, who was running the restaurant. “So, he started negotiating with the original family, which is the Smileys and the Tiptons to transfer the ownership back to the Tiptons, which they did yesterday.”

The announcement of the closure caused some initial confusion. The Richmond Register posted an article Tuesday with the news. Parkette posted on social media later that day that the article was inaccurate.

“We negotiated a deal to end the lease. We thought that was what’s best instead of trying to make it work if it’s not going to work,” Tipton said.

Kaplan says he was under the impression that the restaurant wouldn’t close. He had hopes of turning it around. He says he wasn’t notified the place had permanently closed until after hours Tuesday. He thought he was going to open Wednesday and some employees even showed up. He says he and his 20 employees are now out of a job. He’s asking people in the community to hire them.

“I can not speak for the family as to why they made the decisions that they made, so I’m not going to speculate as to why that happened the way it happened,” Kaplan said. “All I can tell you and Lexington is that we, me and my family, are devastated and heartbroken.”

Tipton credits the Kaplans for doing well taking over the operations, but says COVID-19 hit really hurt them. He says, while people love Parkette and the memories there, they just aren’t coming to eat like they used to.

Many tell us they’re going to miss the Lexington treasure.

“Parkette has just been an icon,” said Frankfort resident Melody Baker. “It’s been here for so many years. It’s sort of sad to see it go.”

Tipton says no plans have been set on what will happen with the property.

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