Hank’s Drive-In To Reopen In Fairlawn After Year-Long Closure

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Monica Levitan | mlevitan@email.radford.edu

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Hank’s Drive-In, a popular American fast food restaurant located along Route 11 in Fairlawn, is scheduled to reopen in a couple of weeks under new management after being closed for a year due to renovations.

The joint is designed to be a curb fast food service. A lot of other chains such as Sonic utilize this type of service, where people drive into the lot, park, and someone comes out to the car and takes your order.

Known for having the “Best Burger in Town”, the drive-in first opened in Plum Creek, Virginia in 1969 by owner and head cook Hanford “Hank” Kesterson. He then moved the restaurant in May 1972 to its current location to be closer to his home in the nearby town of Parrot.

“I tell ya I was excited, wondering how everything was going to work out,” said Kesterson as he looked around the inside of the restaurant. “I never had thought I’d be going into business or something like that myself.”

The main reason for the new look of the restaurant was to give it a much-needed repair, inside and out, and build a better roof than it had previously. The roof used to be flat and caused closures whenever it rained because the rain leaked into the building.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for a food service, nonrestaurant worker in Southwest Virginia in 2016 was $9.08, and 210 people in Southwest Virginia work in this field. The BLS defined the occupation as one who “serves food to individuals outside of a restaurant environment, such as in hotel rooms, hospital rooms, residential care facilities, or cars.”

Kesterson said that after an average weekday, he’d usually make around $40 to $50 in sales. That number varied, however, and Kesterson added that the most popular days at the drive-in were Friday’s and Saturday’s.

Working full time at the drive-in for 45 years, Kesterson had tons of great memories at Hank’s. So many, it was hard for him to think of one that was his all-time favorite.

“I enjoyed meeting new people. Most all of the customers who come in, you knew them. There were few which you didn’t know, wasn’t long until you get to know them.”

Good news for locals, the business will continue to stay in the family. The new owner of the drive-in is Shenna Viers, niece of Kesterson, along with her husband Brent. Viers had worked alongside Kesterson on and off for around 35 years and considers him to be a father figure rather than an uncle.

“When Hank had a heart attack about six years ago, I ran the restaurant for a year until he could come back and run it. Now, he’s 88 and he’s just not able to do it anymore,” said Viers.

“And I could not stand the thoughts of it ever closing down because ever since I’ve been little, this has been Hank’s and I just couldn’t stand to think of anybody closing it or tearing it down or it being anything other than Hank’s.”

Viers’s main goal is to create an environment where families can come and feel like the drive-in is a safe place to bring their kids and enjoy themselves. She doesn’t want any of her customers to feel rushed when at Hank’s.

“I want it to be a friendly atmosphere and I want it to be somewhere that you feel like you wanted to be there. You weren’t just being pushed through. I want it to be pleasant for everybody that comes here, no matter what age.”

She also hopes to continue Hank’s amazing reputation and continue using the recipes Kesterson had when he ran the restaurant, but also add other options.

“After we get settled in, I hope at some point to get an oven and do biscuits and gravy, beans and cornbread and soups,” she said. “I want to do those and then some meals like hopefully we can do some macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, chicken salad, stuff like that.”

Viers already has a staff hired to help her out during the days to make sure someone’s taken care of as soon as they drive up to the restaurant. Her employees aren’t required to wear a uniform per se, but she advises them to avoid wearing sleeveless tops because she doesn’t “feel like people want to see arm hair and too much skin when they’re eating”, and hairnets and gloves when making food.

Some Hank’s regulars have been wondering and asking Viers why the restaurant is taking “so long” to reopen. In response, Viers said her husband works full time as a contractor at Radford and Virginia Tech and works on the restaurant after work until one or two o’clock in the morning. She also added that she recently had a grandchild that was born premature and a couple of months later, passed away.

“People don’t realize, they don’t think about other things that could be going on in your life,” said Viers.

Be on the lookout for Hank hanging out at the drive-in once it reopens to the public. He hopes to visit when he can and talk to old and new customers.

Viers added if he ever wants to “fix a burger” then he’s more than welcome to. “But, you know, I want him to be able to come over and sit and chat and be one of the guys that gets to sit there and chat in the morning instead of having to do everything.”

When thinking of the future of Hank’s Drive-In, Kesterson hopes to see the business thriving and busy.

“I’d like to see it a job well done, prosper and everything, and everybody like it and enjoy it. I believe it will too,” said Kesterson.

For any small business owner hoping to open a drive-in, Kesterson advises them to, “Be sure you know what you’re doing. Know how to operate it and it’s [at] a good location … be able to explain to people what’s going on … you just have to be nice to everybody, but you can’t give in to who wants to do what they want to do,” said Kesterson.

“You have to let them know that you’re the boss, that’s the best thing to do.”

For the latest updates on the drive-in’s progress, go to Hank’s Drive-In’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pg/Hanks-Drive-In-143862632354420/about/?ref=page_internal.