WILMINGTON – A couple is buying the Gemini Giant, a Route 66 icon, and the Launching Pad restaurant in Wilmington.
The green Gemini Giant, a 30-foot-tall spaceman statue that is a frequent stopping point on Route 66 tours, stands outside the restaurant, which has been closed for several years.
Tully Garrett and Holly Barker of New Lenox plan to reopen the restaurant.
They have gotten a taste of potential interest in the reopening after posting their plans on social media.
“We’re getting 400 or 500 responses,” Garrett said. “People want that old-style, pie-and-coffee American restaurant.”
Garrett said he and Barker were in Wilmington on an antiques outing a month ago when they came across the Gemini Giant, stopped in the parking lot and soon began meeting travelers from around the world.
“It was a constant flow of people,” Garrett said. “There was this bus and trailer. Fifteen people came out. They were from Amsterdam.”
Over the course of a few visits to the Launching Pad, Garrett said, the couple met people from Egypt, Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries, as well as domestic travelers.
They expect to close on the acquisition this week.
Barker, who has worked in the restaurant business and studied restaurant management in college, said they plan to keep the Launching Pad name.
“We want to keep all the nostalgia we possibly can and fix up around it,” Barker said. “We’re going to be bringing in a mix of people, including legacy people who have worked at the Pad before.”
Barker said they have heard from a number of people who worked at the restaurant.
“They’re reaching out to us every day,” she said.
They don’t have a timetable for the reopening of the Launching Pad. Barker said they need to determine how much work the building needs before it can be opened up again.
Barker is from North Carolina. Garrett grew up in Will County, living in several towns, and owns an insurance agency that has been in his family for 55 years. But he said he only had seen the Gemini Giant once about 25 years ago before he and Barker came across it again in the recent outing.
“Lo and behold, there’s that spaceman I saw 25 years ago,” Garrett said of his impression that day.
The Gemini Giant is along a section of Route 53 that is on the Old Route 66 travel route.
The statue was among a number of “Muffler Man” props that were used for promotional purposes in the 1960s.
The restaurant dates back to 1960 when it opened as Dairy Delite, according to a news release from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway organization. It was renamed the Launching Pad in 1965 after it became home to the Gemini Giant.
The Route 66 organization announced the acquisition of the Gemini Giant and Launching Pad as it prepares for the Route 66 Miles of Possibility Conference, which will be in Joliet Thursday through Saturday.
Garrett and Barker will be introduced to the conference by Cory Jobe, the director of the Illinois Office of Tourism, at a news conference following his keynote address at 9 a.m. Friday.