NEWARK — For those who live in or around Newark, Bee Tee’s Drive-In has been a summer tradition since the 1970s.
It’s the place where baseball teams grab ice cream cones, sundaes and shakes after games, where friends and neighbors get reacquainted over burgers, hots and fries.
If all goes as planned, this venerable Newark business at 1129 E. Union St. will have a new owner when it reopens in March 2022.
Owners Anne and Frank Bullock are selling the popular place after 26 years. The decision to sell wasn’t easy, said the couple Tuesday afternoon as they sat at booths in the restaurant, which has closed for the season.
Much of it comes down to time. Anne wants to spend more of it with her young grandchildren, one in Newark and the other in North Carolina. Managing the drive-in doesn’t afford much opportunity for free time in the warm months, especially in a year when help has been hard to find.
“I was here open to close, seven days a week, for 6½ months,” Anne said.
When not working at Bee Tee’s, Frank has a full-time job at Jrlon on Fox Road in Manchester.
“We put it up for sale now, because I don’t want to turn 65 and say we have to sell,” Frank said.
The business is listed with realtor Shawna Bilak of eXp Realty. The realtor’s website said the asking price is $375,000.
“A lotta tire kickers” is how Frank describes the interest so far in buying the business, which the couple notes has outlasted every ice cream joint to come to Newark. It opened in 1976 as Bee Gees. The couple purchased it in 1996.
Bee Tee’s fans on the drive-in’s Facebook page are, of course, saddened by the news of the burger and ice cream joint’s sale, but the couple said 2021 won’t be their last if they don’t find a buyer.
“If we don’t sell over the winter, it’s going to open in March (with us as owners),” Anne emphasized.
It wasn’t the easiest of years for Bee Tee’s.
Staffing issues, higher wages and food price increases provided roadblocks, but the business is strong and a buyer will find what Frank described as a “turnkey” operation.
“We hold our own against the competition,” said Frank, which includes such regional giants as Tom Wahl’s on West Union Street.
The couple said it won’t sell to just anyone. They want someone well-capitalized with a true stake in the business. The couple said they will offer whatever help the new owner needs get off to a good start.
“I want the person who buys it to succeed,” he said. “We’ll help the new owners any way we can.”
If it turns out to be the Bullocks’ last year, the couple walks away with plenty of good memories. The place where Frank worked while in high school and where he served up sundaes for his high school sweetheart, Anne, is also the place where their own daughters worked in their high school and college years.
It’s also the place where numerous young people learned the value of hard work that they took on to adulthood, they said.
“I wanted to be a home economics teacher when I was young,” Anne said, “but this is as close as you can get.”
Restaurant duties run the gamut, she noted, from dealing with customers in person and by phone to making change to cleaning up to doing the dishes.
Anne’s hardly a hands-off worker, pressing 100 ground steaks a day with a plate, and her hands are feeling it.
“It’s been a way of life,” said Frank, who along with Anne, turns 60 later this year. He plans to keep his job at Jrlon for another five years.
So many customers have become friends, Anne said, noting they make special deliveries on occasion to people unable to get to the drive-in anymore. For others, it’s making sure that burger is stacked with toppings in the order they always get.
“We like to go the extra mile for our customers,” she said.
They’re looking forward to a time when they can break away for a summer vacation, which happened just once during their 26 years of owning Bee Tee’s — that was a motorcycle trip across the country Frank took while Anne handled everything at the drive-in.
“It will be sad when it’s over,” Anne admitted. “It’s all I’ve done for the past 26 years.”