Launching Pad Drive-In lands new owners

The Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, Illinois — best-known for its Gemini Giant fiberglass giant on a corner of the property — has new owners who plan to reopen the Route 66 landmark in the late spring.

The Free Press Newspapers reported Tully Garrett and Holly Barker will take possession Oct. 16 of the property, which closed in 2010.

The couple said because so many repairs are needed for the restaurant, they’ll tackle in phases. In the meantime, they’ve got a few things planned in the interim:

They would like to set up a small portable building in the parking lot near the Gemini Giant where visitors can learn about the landmark and purchase T-shirts, patches, coffee mugs, post cards, pop and snacks — all of the things that travelers buy — and much of it with Wilmington’s name on it. They’d love it to be the city’s visitor’s center.
They’ll create a photo op — visitors can take as many photos in front of the Giant as they want — but the business will provide a print that has smoke coming out of the rocket, and print the picture in the moment.

The couple also plans to park food trucks in the parking lot while the restaurant’s kitchen undergoes renovations.

The couple also said they would roll out their menu gradually, getting opinions from locals.

Each month’s profits will be reinvested in the business to make the next improvement.
“We’re going to call it … Operation Launch the Pad,” Barker commented.
The couple has a lot of ideas for the property — farmers markets, car shows, sock hops, movie nights, a museum — and maybe an animated rocket “blasting off” from the roof, if Garrett has his way.

The Launching Pad and Gemini Giant were inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2000. It long has been one of the biggest photo opportunities for Route 66 travelers.

John and Betty Korelc opened a Dairy Delite at the site in 1960. It was renamed the Launching Pad after an expansion in 1965. The Gemini Giant landed there in 1965 after John Korelc saw a Muffler Man during a restaurant convention. Most Muffler Men were cowboys or lumberjacks. Korelc had his specially made so it looked liked an astronaut. John Korelc retired in 1986.

Morey Szczecin bought the property in 2007 after longtime owners Jerry and Sharon Gatties retired. But the restaurant struggled, closed in 2010 and was put up for sale for $650,000.

(Hat tip to Pam Monson; image of the Launching Pad Drive-In in 2012 by Laura LaRose via Flickr)

5 thoughts on “Launching Pad Drive-In lands new owners

  1. This is most awesome news!! This icon has desperately needed new owners with energy, ideas and enthusiasm along with a lot of love for a long time. Best of luck to Garrett and Barker. I’m already looking forward to attending some sort of opening activity next Spring!

  2. Great news! I hope they clean the stickers off GG’s legs and keep them lubed so future stickers won’t stick.

  3. I’m VERY happy. The new owners seem to understand what it takes to own a Route 66 landmark. I hope they paid a fair price for the property. I wish them much success.

  4. How exciting! I hope all goes well with the re-opening! I worked at the Launching Pad in 1975 for John and Betty Korelc. It was my first job and I have many fond memories from there. They had the best pork tenderloin sandwiches and milkshakes!

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