Poor Richard’s Campus, the iconic West Walnut Street restaurant located next to East Tennessee State University, was a place that held many memories for customers throughout its nearly four decades in operation.
Loyal PR’s customers mourned the loss of the restaurant when it closed its doors in late November, but a former customer and employee are hoping to return Poor Richard’s to its former glory when they reopen the eatery in May.
“It just kind of broke my heart to see it closed and we had been talking about it,” new owner Daniel Shell said. “We just kind of jumped off the deep end, because I couldn’t stand to see it go downhill.”
Shell, a former bar manager of the restaurant, and his wife, Donna Vitoux, are the new owners of Poor Richard’s, and they’ve been working around the clock to get the restaurant up and running before the tentative grand opening May 3.
The couple had always wanted to open a restaurant and had looked into doing something in Piney Flats, but Shell said he and his wife ultimately decided they would try to bring Poor Richard’s back to life.
“This was just one of the stops when I was in college. You wanted to get out and come here and the lunch was phenomenal,” he said.
With those kind of memories, Shell said it was important to try to restore as much of the Poor Richard’s of old as he could, which is why he plans on using the original menu.
“You could come to Poor Richard’s and no doubt it was the best sandwich you’d ever ate. You’d come through and take a bite out of a sandwich and it’d just melt. We was the first one around to steam sandwiches. We’re taking it back to a lot of the original stuff.” he said.
That means customers will still be able to order the Super Hoagie, the RB Delight, The General, and, of course, a cup of Maxine’s Finest Iced Tea.
“It’s going to go back, as close as I can get it, to the original menu the way it was in the mid-80s and ’90s. We’re going to put a twist on some things and make some more modern stuff, but we’re still going to have the same sandwiches,” Shell said.
Shell said Brian Hilton, Poor Richard’s original deli manager, is returning to run the deli operations.
The restaurant’s new owners are busy prepping the restaurant for the May opening, and Shell said he’s looking for any old pieces of memorabilia pertaining to either Poor Richard’s or ETSU to help decorate the walls.
“It’s a staple. It’s Poor Richard’s Campus. It’s a Johnson City tradition. That’s the big thing we’re pushing,” he said.
In addition to bringing back one of Johnson City’s most famous eateries, Shell said he hopes the new Poor Richard’s will give a boost to other West Walnut Street businesses.
“I’m hoping that putting it back will bring more businesses in and I’m hoping I’m a big enough draw. At one point, Poor Richard’s had the biggest lunch business in Johnson City, hands down. We’d compete with anybody. I want that back. Even though our names are on the paperwork, this is Johnson City’s restaurant,” he said.