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

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

(AP Photo/Tom Breen)
(Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk. CC BY-NC 2.0 license.)

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

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

In 1947, Alex Schoenbaum opened a drive-in restaurant called the “Parkette” at 1606 Kanawha Blvd. West in Charleston. Schoenbaum bought the property for $2,500, said his widow Betty Schoenbaum (who is now also deceased) 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 CC BY-NC 2.0 license.)
Betty Schoenbaum, wife of Alex Schoenbaum, hugging a Shoney’s Bear mascot. (WOWK file)

The Parkette had multiple Charleston-area locations — downtown on Summers Street, in Kanawha City and in South Charleston. At the time, the restaurant sold fried chicken meals for $1 and fish sandwiches for 45 cents.

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

Schoenbaum incorporated the name “Big Boy,” stemming from the double-decker Big Boy-style burgers the Parkette sold. In 1951, Schoenbaum collaborated with business owners in Ohio and California to expand the franchise into territories.

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

In 1954, he held a write-in contest for a new franchise name. The contest ran from May 3, 1954, to June 4, 1954. The first place prize was a 1954 Lincoln Capri convertible car, and runner-up prizes were a refrigerator, stove-top oven, television set and an air conditioner.

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

The contest’s winning submission was how the Parkette became “Shoney’s Big Boy.” In 1977, Shoney’s ended the Big Boy affiliation and debuted their own mascot, the Shoney’s Bear.

By 1995, Shoney’s reached its peak with 1,400 restaurants and 400 Captain D’s restaurants. At this time, the chain grossed an annual $1 billion.

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

Although the Schoenbaum’s have passed on, their legacy continues around Charleston and on its West Side, the community that was once home to the original Parkette. The Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center on the West Side offers child care, workforce programs, emergency assistance, free internet and computer access, and more.