Big boy in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia has all sorts of whimsical attractions, like a landlocked lighthouse, a giant teapot, and 20-foot tall miner statues. Each attraction has an interesting story as to why it was built.

So what’s the story behind Shoney’s Big Boy statue in Charleston, West Virginia?

(AP Photo/Tom Breen)

(Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk. License CC BY-NC 2.0.)

It may come as a surprise to some that the history of Shoney’s restaurants began in Charleston. That’s right, Alex Schoenbaum started the Shoney empire right here in the Mountain State.

Located on Charleston’s west side, Shoney’s Big Boy Museum is a roadside attraction with memorabilia, a statue, and a plaque commemorating the original restaurant. The statue stands on a 14-foot pillar.

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In 1947, Alex Schoenbaum opened a drive-in restaurant called “Parkette” at 1606 Kanawha Blvd. West in Charleston. Schoenbaum bought the property for $2,500, his widow Betty Schoenbaum (who has also since passed away) said in a 2012 interview with West Virginia Living.

Alex Schoenbaum in front of the first Shoney’s restaurant on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston. (Photo by License CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Betty Schoenbaum, wife of Alex Schoenbaum, hugs a Shoney’s Bear mascot. (WOWK file)

The Parkette had multiple locations in the Charleston area – downtown on Summers Street, in Kanawha City and in South Charleston. Back then, the restaurant sold fried chicken for $1 and fish sandwiches for 45 cents.

  • The Parquet Drive-In, Charleston, West Virginia, ca. 1947-1953. (Photos from the West Virginia Collection, courtesy of WVU’s West Virginia and Regional History Center)
  • An interior view of the Parkette Drive-In, ca. 1947-1952. (Photos from the West Virginia Collection, courtesy of WVU’s West Virginia and Regional History Center)

The franchise continued to expand throughout West Virginia and eventually into other states.

Schoenbaum took the name “Big Boy” from the Big Boy-style double-decker burgers that Parkette was selling. In 1951, Schoenbaum worked with business owners in Ohio and California to expand the franchise into territories.

The Parkette was well known locally, but Schoenbaum feared the name was too generic for a national chain.

In 1954 he held a writing contest for a new franchise name. The contest ran from May 3, 1954 to June 4, 1954. First place prize was a 1954 Lincoln Capri Convertible and second prizes were a refrigerator, stove, television and air conditioner.

The Shoney Bear mascot with Shoney CEO David Davoudpour (Photo: Business Wire)

The winning entry of the contest was how the parquet became “Shoney’s Big Boy”. In 1977, Shoney’s ended the Big Boy affiliation and debuted its own mascot, the Shoney’s Bear.

By 1995, Shoney’s was at its peak with 1,400 restaurants and 400 Captain D’s restaurants. At this point, the chain was staking $1 billion annually.

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Today, a Shoney’s and a Captain D’s are located next door in Charleston on Kanawha Boulevard, a short drive from the Big Boy statue at 1600 Kanawha Boulevard. West. The attraction is slightly off the original address at 1606 Kanawha Blvd. West.

Though the Schoenbaums are deceased, their legacy continues around Charleston and on its west side, the community that was once home to the original stalls. The Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center on the west side offers childcare, work programs, emergency assistance, free internet and computer access, and more.

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