Sauk Valley

Original home of the 19-cent burger closes after 70 years

Pink Pony drive-in served up its last meals on Jan. 2

ERIE – A restaurant that has stood the test of time has closed its doors after 70 years of operation.

The owners of the Pink Pony Drive In, located at 613 12th St. in Erie, served up the last of the food on Jan. 2 before turning off the lights for good.

The special that night: 21-piece shrimp or catfish dinner.

The change of pace brought on by COVID was the deciding factor, said Amanda Reymer, who co-owned the business with her parents, Jeff and Jill Nyenhuis.

“If COVID hadn’t come along, we would still be bumping along like we had been,” said Reymer. “But when COVID hit, we were afforded more time to ourselves, and we realized we didn’t want to go back to all the hours and the weekends we’d been working. We’ll get jobs but something that doesn’t take as much of our time. Our plan for the future is to have more free time.”

Reymer and her parents bought the business from Jill’s parents — K.B. and Carol Melton — in 2000.

Following the ownership chain back, the Meltons had purchased it from Mary and Elmo Lawson in May 1995. The restaurant was started by the Klendworth family in the early 1950s, when it had a pink exterior and wooden pink pony on display.

Originally known as the home of the 19-cent hamburger, the family-friendly restaurant adapted to a changing clientele through the years, but always provided a spot for locals to get a hot meal or ice cream.

Erie High School students would come by after school or sporting events. The Countyline Cruisers car club held Cruisin’ the Pony gatherings in the summer, with classic cars parked in the lot as oldies music played.

First dates, coffee meetups and families coming together for dinner; the restaurant embodied small-town living in a modern age, offering a cozy and comfortable space for connections and conversation.

Original photos and menus were framed and hung on the walls while country music played through the speakers. The menu featured hamburgers, chicken, fish, shrimp, salads and sides, ice cream sundaes, floats, and the popular Pink Pony ice cream bars.

The décor was a mixture of the restaurant’s history blended with inspirational Americana art, both complementing the diner’s classic atmosphere.

Locals are saddened by the loss of the establishment, but supportive of the new direction for the dedicated owners. Many shared memories on social media, recalling trips to the diner as kids or bringing their own families in for great food and service.

The hole left by the closure will be hard to fill, especially as it seemed so sudden. The restaurant closed for a few days during the initial lockdowns in March 2020, with only curbside pick-up available since then.

“What we’ll miss most is time spent with family,” Reymer continued. “My mom raised me and my three siblings through there. She was only going to do it until we were all out of high school, but it was never the right time to leave. I came back in 2008 and soon after we added a breakfast menu. I’ve raised my two kids through there, with my 15-year-old daughter Claire and 12-year-old son Caleb working with mom and I. So that’s been great that we all got to spend time together doing that. My mom got to see her kids and grandkids raised through the restaurant.”

The family has many good memories over the years. The occasional “disasters” that would happen “makes us shake our heads and wonder how we got through that,” Reymer said, laughing.

But still, it’s not easy to let go after building a life around a dream.

“We’ll miss the people who’ve worked at the restaurant, and the high school kids who worked for us and who would come back to see us, some as parents themselves. We’ll miss our customers, especially the ones we would see daily. We’ve enjoyed watching families and people grow over the years,” Jill said.

The family plans on selling the building, but because of health code regulations they were grandfathered into, they can’t sell it as a restaurant unless they make the required updates.