Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington reopens after long COVID-19 closure

The landmark Launching Pad Drive-In restaurant in Wilmington, Illinois, reopened this past weekend after a lengthy voluntary closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reopening occurred during the Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival, which essentially is a 90-minute car cruise along the route in the northern part of the state.

Tully Garrett and Holly Barker, owners of the restaurant, posted Saturday on Facebook:

The restaurant also posted this video from the festival:

Barker and Garrett purchased the long-closed restaurant in 2017 and reopened it about 18 months later.

The restaurant’s main claim to fame is its 28-foot-tall Gemini Giant fiberglass statue that stands in a corner of the parking lot near Route 66. 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 Bernice 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.

Here’s another sign the Mother Road is beginning to cover from the pandemic: The California Route 66 Museum in Victorville will reopen to the public May 28.

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