Eat'n Park

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Eat'n Park Restaurants
Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.
FoundedJune 6, 1949; 70 years ago (1949-06-06) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Larry Hatch
  • William D. Peters
United States
Number of locations
64 stores (2019)
Area served
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia
Key people
Number of employees
8,000+ (2011)
ParentEat'n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.
Footnotes / references
A black and gold Smiley Cookie appears at a rally for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.

Eat'n Park is a restaurant chain based in Homestead, Pennsylvania, with 64 locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The chain is known for its Smiley Cookies and has adopted the motto, "the place for smiles".


Eat'n Park logo while the chain was affiliated with Big Boy Restaurants.

In the late 1940s, Larry Hatch and Bill Peters were supervisors at Isaly's Restaurants in Pittsburgh. On a trip to Cincinnati, Hatch was impressed seeing the Frisch's Big Boy Drive In operation, he and Peters contacted Big Boy founder Bob Wian, reaching a 25-year agreement to operate Big Boy Restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, which would be called Eat'n Park.[5]

Eat'n Park launched on June 5, 1949, when Hatch and Peters opened a 13-stall drive-in restaurant on Saw Mill Run Boulevard in the South Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Advertised as "Pittsburgh's First Modern Eat-in-your-Car Food Service" this location was serviced by 10 carhops.[6] Four months later, a second unit opened in Pittsburgh, by 1956: 11 units, 1960: 27 units, 1965: 30 units, and by 1973: 40 Eat'n Park locations.[7] After leaving Big Boy, the chain entered Ohio and West Virginia, and eventually grew to over 75 restaurants.[1] In 2017, there are 69 Eat'n Park restaurants operating.[4]

In 1974, Eat'n Park allowed their 25-year Big Boy franchise agreement to expire; this was publicly attributed to discontinuation of car hop service—which ended in 1971—but it was largely motivated by the end of $1 per year licensing fee Eat'n Park enjoyed.[8] As a result the Big Boy hamburger was renamed the Superburger; the non-renewal of the Big Boy agreement eventually allowed Eat'n Park to expand into areas licensed to other Big Boy franchises. Eat'n Park expanded into Northeast Ohio including Greater Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, and into West Virginia: first Morgantown, followed by Clarksburg and Wheeling. (In 1977, Big Boy reassigned the Pittsburgh territory to Wheeling-based Elby's Big Boy.[9] Sold to Elias Brothers Big Boy in 1986, the Elby's locations closed in 2000 when Elias Brothers faced bankruptcy, the rights now owned by Big Boy Restaurants International; the closest Big Boy restaurants operate in Greater Cleveland and Frisch's Big Boy restaurants in Port Clinton, Fremont and Columbus.) In Morgantown and Clarksburg, Eat'n Park competes with fellow former Big Boy franchisee Shoney's.

The company launched its signature Smiley Cookie in 1986 to coincide with adding a bakery to its locations; the Smiley Cookie came from Warner's Bakery, a small bakery in Titusville, Pennsylvania.[10] The Smiley Cookie would become so popular that it would eventually be added to its logo and would spawn the "Frownie" brownie from rival Kings Family Restaurants, which would be controversially discontinued in 2015 after Kings was sold to a private equity firm.[11] Eat'n Park filed several lawsuits against companies outside the restaurants' operating area to enforce its trademark[12] on the Smiley Cookie.[13][14][15]

In 2011, Eat'n Park was awarded the Achievement of Excellence award from the American Culinary Federation.[16]

Despite accepting debit and credit card transactions, Eat'n Park is unusual in the restaurant business by having an ATM at each location; the ATMs were originally owned by SkyBank, and later Huntington Bank after the latter bought SkyBank in 2007. The ATMs are now operated by a third-party company.

Since 2013, Eat'n Park has been a sponsor of the YouTube series Pittsburgh Dad.

Former locations[edit]

An Eat'n Park marquee pylon sign.

While Eat'n Park currently serves western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, the chain also served the Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York, Pennsylvania markets from the mid-1990s to 2010. At one time having operated five restaurants in the Harrisburg market alone, by 2010 only one remained in Harrisburg, and one each in New Cumberland, Lancaster, and York. In March 2010, the New Cumberland and Lancaster locations were closed and sold, and by October 1, 2010 Eat'n Park closed their last two area restaurants—in York and Harrisburg—due to low sales.[17]

On January 17, 2019, Eat'n Park announced it was closing six restaurants due to under-performing sales. Four were in Greater Cleveland, while the other two were in Boardman, Ohio and New Castle, Pennsylvania, both within close proximity to Youngstown, Ohio. Eat'n Park will continue to operate its three other Youngstown-area locations. Although this removed the Eat'n Park brand from the Cleveland area, the company continues to operate a Cleveland area Hello Bistro restaurant with plans to open a second unit.[18][19]

On January 27, 2019, Eat'n Park closed one of the two restaurants in Erie, Pennsylvania. Having operated for 29 years, the building will be demolished and a Chick-fil-A restaurant constructed on the site. [20]

Other concepts[edit]

Hello Bistro sign at the restaurant on Pittsburgh's South Side

Eat'n Park has been expanding its offerings outside its namesake family restaurants, operating upscale restaurants as well as more casual eating places.

The company's most successful concept is Hello Bistro, a fast casual chain focused on millennials offering gourmet burgers and salads while keeping its parent company ties to a minimum by offering prepackaged Smiley Cookies and the same brand of ranch dressing as the main Eat'n Park chain, but otherwise making no references to Eat'n Park. With six locations, Eat'n Park plans to expand the Hello Bistro concept throughout the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and potentially into new markets.[21]


Eat'n Park banned smoking throughout the chain on May 30, 2007, sixteen months before a statewide smoking ban was enacted in Pennsylvania.

Christmas commercial[edit]

A Christmas tradition in the Pittsburgh region is the annual airing of an animated Eat'n Park commercial that shows a Christmas star (named Sparkle) struggling to reach the top of a Christmas tree until the tree bends over to help the star up.[22] Released in 1982, in support of a charity at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, the commercial became so popular that Eat'n Park has re-aired the ad every year since, starting in late November. Eat'n Park now sells merchandise during the holiday season based on the ad, it is believed to be the longest-running Christmas commercial in the United States, longer than national television ads by Folgers, Hershey's Kisses, and M&M's, as well as a regional commercial by the Pennsylvania Lottery.[23][24] Sparkle, the Eat'n Park Star was trademarked by Eat'n Park in 1990 but was abandoned two years later.[25]


  1. ^ a b Eat'n Park. "Eat'n Park - About Us". Eat'n Park. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  2. ^ Eat'n Park. "Eat'n Park - About Us - Contact Us". Eat'n Park. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  3. ^ Eat'n Park. "Eat 'n Park - About Us - Eat'n Park Hospitality Group". Eat'n Park. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  4. ^ a b "Eat'n Park Restaurant Locator". Eat'n Park. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  5. ^ "Obituary: William D. Peters / President of Eat'n Park restaurants". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 20, 2000. Retrieved 28 September access
  6. ^ "Bring Your Family to Eat'n Park (advertisement)". The Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh. June 4, 1949. p. 3. Retrieved December 12, access
  7. ^ Kunzmann, Jackie (July 5, 1989). "Hungry motorists can't help but Eat'n Park: A few food facts, figures". New Castle News. p. 17. Retrieved February 6, 2017 – via
  8. ^ Kapner, Suzanne (September 18, 1995). "After 46 years, Eat'n Park still revs sales, appetites". Nation's Restaurant News: 4.
  9. ^ "Elby's given rights to franchise". The Times Recorder. Zanesville, Ohio. March 20, 1979. p. 14. Retrieved December 2, 2017 – via Free to read
  10. ^ "Eat'n Park Blog".
  11. ^ "Kings Family Restaurants Sold To San Diego Private Equity Firm". 23 April 2015.
  12. ^ "USPTO Trademark Status & Document Retrieval: Smiley Face Cookie". February 5, 2017. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  13. ^ Cato, Jason (January 25, 2010). "Eat'n Park takes on Texas company over its Smiley Face cookie". Tribune-Review. Pittsburgh, PA. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  14. ^ Ove, Torsten (May 21, 2015). "Eat'n Park sues Chicago cookie-maker over Smiley trademark". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Brandolph, Adam (May 20, 2015). "No smile here: Eat'n Park sues Chicago cookie maker". Tribune-Review. Pittsburgh, PA. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  16. ^ Lee, Stacy (20 July 2011). "Eat'n Park to receive national recognition". McKeesport Daily News. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  17. ^ Gleiter, Sue (September 29, 2010). "Eat'n Park to close its last Harrisburg-area restaurant". Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Eat'n Park's spinoffs part of strategy to stay relevant beyond diner Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (November 9, 2015)
  22. ^ Eat 'N Park (August 14, 2006), Eat 'N Park Christmas Star Commercial, retrieved February 6, 2017
  23. ^ Crawley, Dave (November 29, 2012). "Eat 'N Park Christmas Commercial Celebrating 30 Years". CBS Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV). Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  24. ^ Lindeman, Teresa F. (November 14, 2012). "Eat'n Park's animated Christmas Star ad celebrates 30 years". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  25. ^ "Trademark Status & Document Retrieval: Sparkle, The Eat'n Park Star". Retrieved February 6, 2017.

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