Let's Talk About: Eat'n Park
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For more than 60 years, Eat'n Park's combination of delicious down-home cooking, friendly service and affordable prices have made the restaurant a true Pittsburgh original.
When the franchise opened its doors in 1949, Eat'n Park made history as Pittsburgh's first restaurant with carhops. The brainchild of Isaly's restaurant executive Larry Hatch, Eat'n Park took advantage of the leading postwar consumer luxury -- the automobile.
Mr. Hatch knew the Pittsburgh area needed a restaurant to capture the spirit of the times and took the innovative approach of reversing the then-popular restaurant phrase "Park & Eat" -- the catchy Eat'n Park name worked.
Customers dined in their cars or inside the tiny, 13-seat restaurant located on Route 51 in the South Hills, while 10 bustling carhops served them. Just six hours into their opening day, the busy restaurant caused a major traffic jam on Saw Mill Run Boulevard and had to briefly close its doors to regroup.
Four months later, a second restaurant opened to keep up with the demand of hungry Pittsburghers. Within the next 11 years, 27 additional Eat'n Park restaurants began serving customers.
Eventually, larger, indoor dining rooms replaced the carhops but the restaurant continued to serve reasonably priced comfort food for the whole family.
In 1986, Eat'n Park introduced Smiley Cookies -- frosted sugar cookies with colorful icing in the shape of a smiley face. Customers of all ages gobbled up the sugary treats and "Smiley" became the official Eat'n Park mascot.
Today, Eat'n Park remains a Pittsburgh culinary icon and operates nearly 100 restaurants throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio -- including Pittsburgh's first LEED-certified green restaurant set to open in 2011.
Visitors can learn more about many Pittsburgh favorites at the Heinz History Center's exhibition "Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation."
First Published May 6, 2010 12:00 am