It was a conversation on the CARTA downtown shuttle that inspired this series of articles on the history of buildings in the Chattanooga area. As we passed the intersection of Fourth and Broad, a person asked me if the Yellow Submarine restaurant used to be in a vacant building there. I replied, “Yes, but when I was growing up here, that was a Shoney’s Big Boy diner.”
In 1959, three local investors obtained a franchise for the first Big Boy Hamburger restaurant in the area. They were I. Shapiro, Pem Cooley, and E.D. Latimer.
Their first location was on Hixson Pike near the newly-opened Highland Plaza Shopping Center. It opened for business as Shap’s (an abbreviation of Mr. Shapiro’s name) Big Boy. The building featured a modernistic roof design which sloped almost to the ground.
Patrons could choose to dine inside, or order from their cars at the drive-in. Among the menu choices were a double-decker hamburger, seafood, steaks, creamy shakes, and fresh strawberry pie (which was 35 cents in 1960).
Being centrally located to City, Red Bank, and Hixson High schools, Shap’s was a popular destination after football games.
Later that year, the owners announced plans to build a second location at Fourth and Broad streets. As part of the freeway and Olgiati Bridge project, Fourth Street had been widened, bringing more traffic by that intersection. Booths and a counter provided seating for up to 32 customers. The restaurant served customers from nearby offices as well as downtown shoppers. I recall going there with my mother after shopping trips.
Within a few years, E.D. Latimer bought out the other two investors, and became part of the Shoney’s Big Boy restaurant chain, which had been started by Alex Schoenbaum. In 1968, Shoney’s opened in the Golden Gateway Shopping Center, which was anchored by Zayre’s Department Store. The location at Fourth and Broad closed one year later. In 1974, Shoney’s moved their Hixson location to Highway 153 across from the new Northgate Shopping Center. In later years, the association with the Big Boy chain was dropped.
Shoney’s closed the Golden Gateway location in the 1990’s, but continues to operate restaurants in the Chattanooga area.
The original downtown Shoney’s building was home in recent years to the Yellow Submarine restaurant, which now operates in a location by Coolidge Park. For several years, the His and Her Hair Place has operated in the former Shoney’s on Hixson Pike. Its distinctive roof was teal blue for many years, but is now painted red. Both buildings are legacies of the early days of restaurant franchising and family dining in Chattanooga.
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