The fast-food restaurant has stayed local to its East Tennessee beginnings for over 60 years.
Burger joints are a dime a dozen in America, and everyone usually has a favorite they swear by. But unfortunately for everyone outside of eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia, Pal’s Sudden Service is probably not at the top of your list. That’s because this famed fast-food restaurant has stayed local to the Tri-Cities, Tennessee, region for the past 60+ years despite receiving national recognition and winning over the hearts of burger lovers lucky enough to eat at Pal’s.
Pal’s stands out first for its eye-catching appearance. The restaurants are painted a bright, cheery blue with a big red Pal’s logo on the side. The front of the building has four tiered steps down from the roofline, each with a giant food item from the menu perched atop it: some fries, a soda, a hotdog, and of course, a burger. All but two of the restaurant’s 29 locations are drive-thru only, so the emphasis on “sudden service” is genuine, and it’s something Pal’s has gotten national acclaim for.
In 2001, Pal’s won the esteemed Malcolm Bridge National Quality Award, the first restaurant company to receive it ever, for recognition of its performance excellence. Pal’s has also been the subject of many case studies due to its unique organizational structure and intense training for employees that prioritizes quality and accuracy above all, and has subsequently led to very low turnover for the industry and one of the lowest error rates of a quick-service restaurant.
But most importantly, Pal’s is loved for its food. From biscuits and cheddar rounds at breakfast to their famous Big Pal burger, hotdogs, and Frenchie Fries for lunch or dinner, the food at Pal’s is what keeps customers coming back. Oh, and did we mention the drinks? In addition to mainstream Coca-Cola products (including the oft-overlooked Pibb Xtra and Mello Yello), Pal’s also serves Dr. Enuf, a lemon-lime soda with added vitamins that’s bottled locally in Johnson City. There are also chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry milkshakes on the menu—and a recent flavor addition: the Sublime key lime shake.
So the next time you’re driving between Knoxville and Roanoke, do yourself a favor and stop at a Pal’s on the way—and while you’re at it, why not ask the cashier when they might open a location near your hometown.