By Keenan Willard
Truckers passing by the Lee-Hi Truck Stop on North Lee Highway will have to find a new spot for mom-and-pop-style comfort food, as beloved mainstay Berky’s Restaurant has been torn down and replaced with an IHOP.
Berky’s, a family-owned restaurant specializing in American food, had operated in the truck stop since the 1940s. During its tenure at the truck stop, the restaurant amassed something of a cult following, as much for its generous portions as its unique interior.
The former restaurant was decorated with retro children’s toys dangling from the ceiling over diners’ heads, as well as vintage gas pumps that were scattered throughout the dining room floor.
Bobby Berkstresser, the owner of the Lee-Hi Truck Stop, told WDBJ7 that the decision to make the change to IHOP was a result of decreased traffic to the restaurant.
“Travel centers have become a stop for everybody, not just truckers anymore,” said Berkstresser. “With that, you’re seeing nicer restaurants and more amenities for the public and that’s what it takes for that traveler to stop here.”
The IHOP opened for business on Aug. 22, and since then the reaction from customers has been a mixed bag.
“They are changing a great restaurant for an IHOP,” said one unnamed truck driver on the now-defunct restaurant’s page on TripAdvisor, a site that lets customers rate and review restaurants. “I won’t be going there anymore, unless I just need a parking place for a big truck.”
“Berky’s restaurant is converting to an IHOP within the next month or so,” another reviewer wrote on the TripAdvisor page. “Thank goodness!”
The debut of a 24/7 IHOP on North Lee Highway seems like a shake-up for the breakfast scene in the area, with a Waffle House located just minutes down the road. However, that has not proven to be the case.
“We haven’t really seen a change,” said Robert Fuller, a manager at the Waffle House on North Lee Highway. “We’re still busy, we’re still getting our same. Actually, we’ve heard a lot that people really miss Berky’s.”
Fuller, who has worked as a manager at the restaurant for almost eight years, said that the lack of crossover traffic between the two diners comes down to their respective proximity to two interstates.
“It’s a small town, so everyone’s going to try everything once, but we get the I-64 traffic, and they get the I-81 traffic,” Fuller said. “We’ve never touched Berky’s traffic.”