Every good town has that landmark establishment.
College freshmen describe it to their new roommates when talking about home. In family history, it’s the place where the grandparents had their first car date — and the restaurant they still trust to find a good pizza.
It’s a place that people in the town share, as part of their common history and hometown experience. It is carried in hearts and memories, long after natives have left home. And it is a place that local residents recommend to travelers.
In Beckley, King Tut’s Drive-In on Eisenhower is “that place.” In business for more than half a century, King Tut’s is the place for the best BBQ, hot dogs, hamburgers and the best drive-through service, according to readers of The Register-Herald.
The restaurant has won The Reader’s Choice Award in those categories, year after year, and again in 2020.
Readers also give King Tut’s milkshakes high marks, ranking them as second best.
King Tut owner Dave McKay has a theory about why King Tut’s Drive-In is a local favorite.
“Because we serve good food,” McKay said. “Or, we try to, anyhow.”
McKay’s father, John McKay, bought King Tut in 1955 from the Tuckwiler family, who had named and founded the drive-in eatery.
“Curb girls” (the name McKay has for his long-time employees) take orders at customers’ cars and then carry out the food to them.
And -oh!- the food!
There are several pies — by the slice or the whole, if an order is made 24 hours in advance — and a wide menu that McKay says pleases a variety of tastes.
Grilled cheese, pan-fried chicken livers, twice-baked stuffed potatoes, beer-battered onion rings, homemade sandwich rolls, BB-Q, hot dogs and hamburgers are all on the menu, along with pizza.
“Dad was the first person to bring pizza to Beckley,” McKay said in 2009. “In the beginning, he had to give it away.
“People here hadn’t tried it before. They wouldn’t buy it.”
King Tut pizzas are now a staple in Beckley fare. For decades, said McKay, one supplier provided the pizza crusts. Recently, that supplier went out of business, but King Tut’s is dedicated to finding a replacement crust that is just as good.
“We’re trying to (serve) the best stuff we can find,” McKay said of the businesses that supply King Tut’s. “And we have a big menu, so it’s a lot of stuff to pick from.
“So, you don’t get tired of it.”
Many of the King Tut recipes on the menu were provided by McKay’s grandmother, the late Kenneth McKay. (Kenneth’s father gave her the name she would’ve had, if she had been a boy.)
Kenneth was a food service executive at Schrafft’s restaurant chain, which has headquarters in Massachusetts.
The prices reflect the local economy, too. King Tut’s offers a wide array of dining choices at reasonable prices.
“We try and keep the prices down, as much as we can,” McKay said. “And we do serve a quality of food to the best I can find.”
For many in Beckley, King Tut is a source of hometown pride. It is a landmark that reflects only Beckley, and nowhere else, from start to finish.
“The place is unique,” McKay noted. “I just thank everybody for choosing us again.”