The Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, Illinois, held its grand reopening Friday, although the Route 66 restaurant had been open for several weeks to long lines to test its food offerings.
Holly Barker and Tully Garrett purchased the long-closed restaurant in the fall of 2017. According to The Herald-News in nearby Joliet:
Barker said they were relieved and elated to finally get to celebrate the restaurant’s restoration, and they were realizing their vision from when they first took on the project.
“We’re just slowly starting to see the fruits of our labor here,” Garrett said. “And after an extensive 15-plus month renovation on the building and getting the kitchen open and getting traffic through the building, we’re starting to see the potential and see people really enjoying what’s been accomplished.” […]
The couple also had a lot of help along the way, as the community, which still treasured the location even though the restaurant closed in 2010, embraced their entrepreneurial spirit.
Barker and Garrett said city officials have been nothing but helpful throughout the process. Wilmington Mayor Roy Strong told the crowd gathered at the ribbon cutting ceremony that he remembered coming to the Launching Pad as a child. He lauded the efforts of Barker and Garrett and said they were the perfect people to revive the Launching Pad.
Barker and Garrett said several community members stepped up to help. They added a new sign on the front of the building, which was donated by Friendly Signs in Kankakee. Lucas Paving in Wilmington donated materials to help them with the parking lot.
The couple also told the newspaper they plan to get married and exchange their vows under the Gemini Giant fiberglass statue on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. moon landing, which is July 21.
Here’s a nine-minute Facebook Live video from the ribbon-cutting for the grand reopening. Geoff Ladd of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway is the one presiding over the ceremony:
The Launching Pad and Gemini Giant were inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2000. Both long have 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 at the time 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 and closed in 2010.
UPDATE: MyWebTimes.com has a good story about the event.
(Image from the grand reopening of the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, Illinois, via Facebook)