Plaza Midwood's Penguin to reopen Wednesday

Popular diner closes it's doors

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The lights are off and the doors are locked, on what would normally be busy nights for the Penguin Drive-In, but the business owner says it's not closed.

In its heyday, the Penguin -- a Plaza-Midwood landmark on Commonwealth Avenue -- had a line out the door. People in business suits and in biker gear stood side-by-side to wait for great burgers and fried pickles.

Courtney and Michael Thomas were regulars for about five years. They courted at the Penguin, fell in love there, even went there on their wedding day.

"We had champagne and fried pickles and beer, and Brian and Jimmy were kind enough to pick up the tab for us," said Courtney.

Brian and Jimmy were the management that made the longtime restaurant famous. Then their landlord wanted them out, and they had to leave.

That was the end of October 2010 -- and the end of an era, according to Courtney and Michael Thomas.

"This is the closest we've actually been to the building since that night," said Courtney Sunday. "We have not set foot across the parking lot."

Heather Lamparter was a waitress at the old Penguin.

It was "awesome, full of people, awesome money, made a lot of friends, met a lot of famous people , had the best bosses in the world," she said. "It was great."

And after Brian and Jimmy left?

"It was definitely not the same," she said.

"They basically said, in no uncertain terms, 'We don't need the neighborhood support,'" said Courtney. "Well in this neighborhood, you DO need the neighborhood support."

Brian and Jimmy opened another restaurant, the Diamond, around the corner, and Heather Lamparter and a lot of customers went with them.

Neighbors boycotted the Penguin and business slowed down.

Saturday and Sunday night, the doors were locked and the lights were out.

Lamparter said she saw Duke Power crews at the building Tuesday, but she doesn't know why they were there.

The building's landlord, 1921 Commonwealth LLC and attorney Don Rawlins, doesn't know why the doors are locked or what the restaurant's plans are.

Rawlins said his tenant had a bankruptcy case thrown out in May. Lisa Ballentine, whose father started the restaurant in 1954, is operating the restaurant.

She filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last November because of outstanding loans.

Two phone numbers for Ballentine were disconnected, and phone calls from her attorneys were not returned Sunday.

Lamparter is kind of sad to see the neighborhood icon closed, but understands why it happened. She'd like for someone to restore the magic -- under new ownership.

"It's sad that it has to sit empty," said Lamparter, "because it was such an awesome place at one point."

Ballentine told NBC Charlotte's Jeremy Markovich Monday afternoon that the Penguin would be opening their doors for business on Wednesday. Ballentine said the restaurant closed for a few days for workers to regroup after a death in a line-cook's family.

Ballentine released the following statement Monday night:

After an unfortunate and tragic death in the family of one of our staff members, we as a staff decided it was best for The Penguin Drive-In to close for seven days this past week. We are a small staff, and our staff is like family. When one of our family members is faced with what happened recently, it affects all of us. We felt it was in the best interest of the staff to take a pause. We look forward to re-opening our doors on Wednesday afternoon (August 6). We would like to thank all of our loyal customers, the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood, and other surrounding small business owners for their continued support.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment