A landmark restaurant that went through three name changes and two generations of Koeninger family members running it recently closed.
Karl’s Family Restaurant at 5100 Hixson Pike just north of Northgate Mall closed on March 19, according to local real estate agent and property owner Tommy Austin, whose family has owned and leased the building and land since it opened five or more decades ago.
Austin said Karl Koeninger and his wife, Jimmie, had been thinking about closing it for a year or so, and decided to take that step when the coronavirus pandemic sharply curtailed restaurant operations throughout Chattanooga beginning last month.
“They thought now was a good time,” he said.
Efforts to reach Mr. Koeninger Friday for more information proved unsuccessful, but Mr. Austin said the restaurant had its origin with his grandfather, Pete Austin Jr. His family farm was in that area of Hixson Pike, including where Northpoint Boulevard is today, and he thought that part of Hixson needed a restaurant.
“My grandfather lived on the farm and he wanted somewhere to eat out there in Hixson,” said the younger Mr. Austin with a laugh.
Art Koeninger, a former University of Chattanooga standout football lineman in the early 1930s under Scrappy Moore, opened the Rebel Drive In there at a time when it was popular to use Southern names for businesses. He had actually come from Roscoe, Pa., to play for the Mocs.
Several Rebel Drive-Ins already existed at places like Rossville Boulevard and Fort Oglethorpe, and another one was apparently later built on Brainerd Road.
At that time before fast-food restaurant chains other than Krystal began proliferating Chattanooga, locally operated drive-ins were popular places, especially for high school-age youngsters.
For a time, the Rebel offered Sonic-style drive-in service outside the restaurant. In the 1970s when CB radios were the craze, its parking lot was a popular place for weekend coffee breaks – or gatherings of CB enthusiasts.
After a few years, son Karl began operating the business, and it became Karl and Viv’s and later just Karl’s Family Restaurant. It was also remodeled and enlarged, and the drive-in bays were eliminated.
In recent years Karl offered home-style breakfasts of biscuits, pancakes, eggs, grits and breakfast meats, as well as meat and vegetable dishes and sandwiches for lunch and supper.
It had been a popular breakfast place for some regulars for a number of years.
The restaurant was also known for its Christian-themed messages on its sign along Hixson Pike, which has become much busier over the years. The sign recently had a message related to Easter.
It also had memorabilia from the elder Mr. Koeninger’s UC playing days on its walls.
Mr. Austin, whose family still owns and leases a number of properties in that area on the former family farmland, is currently trying to lease the space. Although it is currently suited for a restaurant, he said he welcomes other ideas, even the possible purchase of the site.
He said interested parties can call him at (423) 421-7708.