By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone ever served a sandwich or a root beer in a frosted mug at Conneaut’s White Turkey Drive-In is mourning Wednesday’s death of owner Gary E. Tuttle. He was 72.
Tuttle died a little more than a month after the roadside restaurant completed its 60th season at its East Main Road location near the Pennsylvania border. The business was launched by Tuttle’s mother and father in 1952. Tuttle and his wife, Peg, took over the operation in 1981, the couple recalled in a May interview. In recent years they were assisted by daughter Kelly and her husband, Bradd.
Tuttle also operated Gary Tuttle’s Carpet Barn, at the same east side location, for 40 years.
The White Turkey Drive-In became a popular destination for travelers and locals looking for a unique dining option. Open between Mother’s Day and Labor Day, the eatery features a retro, 1950s vibe customers find appealing. As a result, many people make a special trip to Conneaut just to visit the White Turkey Drive-In.
“All you have to do is drive by on any summer night to see how popular it is,” said Connie Naylor, of the Conneaut Board of Tourism. “No doubt about it, it’s a very important piece of Conneaut. It’s a place in Conneaut that’s a tradition.”
Wendy DuBey, Conneaut Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, agreed.
“The Chamber is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Mr. Tuttle. (The White Turkey) has been a member of the Chamber for many years and has been a wonderful addition to our community.”
Dozens and dozens of young people have worked at the White Turkey over the years, and in May the Tuttles said their employees are the businesses’ best asset. Naylor saw firsthand the owners’ concern for their young workers a few days before the Labor Day closing, when she and her husband pulled into the lot for a late night snack. The restaurant was beginning to close in advance of its stipulated hours, and when Naylor asked why, she was told it always closes early on a school night.
“The Tuttles thought that much of their student employees that they would get them home early,” Naylor said. “But they still made us a treat.”
In May, the Tuttles said they had no immediate plans to retire. “We still enjoy opening,” Peg Tuttle said at the time.
Naylor hopes the White Turkey Drive-In will be back for its 61st season in May 2013.
“I would hope the family would continue, she said. “It’s just a wonderful place.”
Calling hours for Tuttle are 1-5 p.m. Sunday at the Marcy Funeral Home and Cremation Center, 208 Liberty St., Conneaut.