Pharos-Tribune

April 16, 2014

Landmark Peru eatery coming back from tornado

CARSON GERBER
Kokomo Tribune

---- — PERU (AP) — B-K West is more than just a drive-in restaurant to its owner, J.D. Hann. It's a piece of his childhood, a historic Peru landmark, and it's his baby.

"I grew up with this place," the 57-year-old Peru native told the Kokomo Tribune. "We used to walk the tracks on Saturday and come here and drink root-beer floats back when they were a quarter. It's always been a part of me."

That's why it hurt so badly when an EF-1 twister tore through the eatery known for its hot dogs, hamburgers and floats back in July.

The powerful storm turned the steel drive-in canopy into a twisted piece of rubble and smashed an employee's truck into a fence.

The building that housed the kitchen also sustained damage. That's where the six girls working at the time hid during the tornado's fury.

"The girls went into the bathroom," Hann said. "They were diving for the floor. It was horrifying. But nobody got hurt, and that's the main thing."

After the storm, cleanup workers found parts of the canopy two miles away on the municipal golf course.

The destruction was devastating to Hann, who's owned the 64-year-old restaurant for the last 12 years.

And now that it's being rebuilt, the part of Hann that was crushed when his restaurant crumbled is being restored.

Construction on the new canopy started earlier this month, and the restaurant that's normally open from March to October should be serving up its iconic drive-in food by the end of the month, Hann said.

"It's 64 years old, and now she's coming back — arose from the grave, so to speak," he said.

Coming back with the restaurant are the 20 girls who worked as cooks and carhops before B-K West shut down after the tornado.

Hann said all the employees are excited about heading back to work, and he's excited to see them all together again.

"The girls mean a lot to me," he said. "They're like my children. . It's just a fun group, and we have a fun time down here. It's always a joke fest. Every day's April Fools."

Although Hann could have rebuilt a bigger and fancier canopy, he said he's keeping it simple and giving it the same look it's had since the beginning.

"We're not going to wrap it neon or anything," he said. "It's going to be the same place with the same menu. Nothing's going to change. We're taking her back just like she was."

One thing's for sure. When the restaurant opens again later this month, it's sure to be packed, Hann said.

"If I had a dollar for every time someone asked, 'When you reopening?' I wouldn't even have to open. I'd be a millionaire. Now that people are seeing the construction going on, they're really getting jacked up about it. . They're like, 'I can't wait, because I need a hot dog.'"

Hann said he can't wait for the restaurant to open, too — and not because he needs a hot dog.

For him, the restaurant is like a family member, and for good reason. It's at B-K West where Hann met his wife back in 1983.

She was working as a carhop when he pulled in to grab a burger. Hann said she caught his eye, and he asked her on a date. The rest is history.

Little did he know the girl's dad owned the place. When his father-in-law passed away, Hann took over the business.

Now, Hann said, he wants to keep the restaurant in the family. He plans on giving it to his two kids whenever he retires — if they want it.

B-K West is one of the oldest restaurants in Peru, and Hann said he's glad to be bringing back one of the city's landmarks.

Buying the restaurant, running it and now rebuilding it are all things Hann said he never planned on doing. But after 12 years managing it, he said he can't imagine the city — or his life — without the eatery.

"I grew up with this place, but I didn't think when I was 7 years old that I'd own it," he said. "I didn't think it'd be my baby someday."