By Lindsey Temple
News Star Reporter
Oklahoma City resident, Mike Lepak, never misses an opportunity during his trips from OKC to the Texoma area, to stop in for a peanut butter milk shake at Ballard’s Drive-thru in Pauls Valley.
He’s greeted with a smile and a warm hello, just like an old friend, from owner Johnny Ballard.
“I’ve been coming here for 12 years and thought I’d stop in today and get my last one,” explained Lepak, last Tuesday, July 10. “I’m sure going to miss this place and the people here.”
This Friday, July 20, Pauls Valley residents and those outside the PV area will bid farewell to a long standing institution of good food, friendly faces and great service, as Ballard’s closes its doors after 61 years of service.
Ballard, 91, has sold the business and decided it is time to retire.
“Its bittersweet. I have made a lot of friends, a lot of customer friends, they have been my greatest joy and I will miss them terribly,” explained Ballard.
A Pauls Valley native, Ballard served as a B-24 pilot during WWII and in 1948 returned home from Japan to a position in the family grocery business.
After a few years Ballard decided the grocery business was not for him and in September of 1951 Ballard bought out an existing Dairy Queen that stood where the Pauls Valley library now stands.
“In our first year and a half of being open we only had ice cream, hot dogs, coneys and root beer with no ice, it came straight out of the root beer barrel,” remembered Ballard, “After that, I started adding things and you can see how much we’ve added,” Ballard explains as he points to a menu.
During his 61 years of service to the area, Ballard also owned drive-ins in Purcell, Davis and Lindsay.
In March of 1974 the establishment moved to its current location and was one of the first dining establishments near I-35 in Pauls Valley, second to the truck stop diner that still stands today but is no longer in business.
Inside Ballard’s Drive-In almost feels like home, old pictures hanging on the wall, familiar tables and warm happy faces that treat you like family.
Ballard jokes around with customers while cleaning tables and taking orders, his worn out Nikes reflect just how much the 91 year old business owner does in a day.
Pictures of some of his regular customers hang along the walls. One particularly famous face — country music star, Toby Keith standing alongside Ballard — he points out with a proud smile.
“He has eaten here a few times, he’s a really nice guy,” boasts Ballard.
Ballard has worked at the drive-in for 61 years now, 7 days a week, doing everything from car hopping to order taking to busing tables.
Ballard admits he isn’t quite sure what he will do with all his spare time.
“I don’t have any hobbies, I don’t play tennis, I don’t fish or hunt, I don’t golf and my wife won’t let me chase women,” chuckles Ballard.
“I love my wife, I really do, I just hope our marriage survives me being around all the time now.”
Ballard made the official announcement about the sell at the recent PV alumni banquet and shortly thereafter was presented with a plaque honoring him for his 61 years of service and business in the area.
The plaque is one of the many mementos he proudly displays in his restaurant
“It was one of the greatest moments in my life. I never expected to be honored that way,” said Ballard.
Since the business will not remain a dining establishment, an auction will be held on the following Friday, July 27, to sell Ballard’s kitchen equipment, booths and everything else that made Ballard’s the landmark it once was.
Ballard admits that he is not looking forward to the auction.
“That part will be sad,” says Ballard.
For many years area residents have asked Ballard when he plans to retire and Ballard has had a standard heartfelt answer for many years now.
“I’ll retire I guess when I get old enough, but, when would I see you again,” Ballard said with a warm smile.