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Arizona restaurant revives carhop dining to survive winter months

Posted at 12:15 PM, Dec 04, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. — A trip to Little Anthony’s Diner is a trip back in time. This family-owned restaurant has been serving up tasty treats, with a side of nostalgia, for the past 43 years.

“I grew up loving it. My family grew up loving it. It’s a Tucson staple,” said Heather Stricker, a manager at the restaurant and its attached theater, The Gaslight Theater.

However, COVID-19 threatened to put this neighborhood treasure out of business.

“Right from the start, it impacted us so huge that it was almost devastating,” said Stricker. “Every day you wake up and you see the news: another restaurant or three restaurants closing in our area. It's scary.”

A lot of business was lost after months of restrictions, so Stricker knew she’d have to get creative to save the place special to her and so many others.

“I think that if we hadn't pivoted, we would have been in real trouble and very quickly,” said Stricker.

So, they took a page from history, hoping it would protect the legacy they’ve built, especially through the winter months ahead. Little Anthony’s revived the carhop in hopes of revving up their business.

“You pull up into our parking lot, and we have a server who is masked and gloved come out, take your order and deliver your food right to the car,” said Stricker.

It’s a safe way to keep customers coming in without stepping into the restaurant.

“It’s really nice that we can actually do this without so much worry about what might happen while we're out,” said customer Jen DeCicco. “We're right beside our own car, but yet we have our own space we can be together and enjoy this concert we’ve been dying to see.”

The concerts are just one more way the restaurant is hoping to keep their drive-in full while keeping people safely distanced.

When it gets colder and sitting outside is no longer an option, the live music plays through your car.

“There's always going to be an option no matter how cold it gets,” said Stricker. “And we've had some cold nights, and we made it through, and everybody had a great time. So, we're excited. We're excited to keep going."

The customers are excited for a brief escape from a year of loneliness.

"Having all these people around us, it feels a little bit like a touch of normalcy,” said Jen DeCicco.

“I have never done anything like this before. I think it's really cool,” said Jude DeCicco.

For regular diners and car enthusiasts Sue and Robert Ellison, this new experience brings their favorite era back to life.

“I would come to places like this with my parents. I remember me and my sister sitting in the back seat and ordering,” said Robert Ellison. “It's a nice flashback to a fun time.”

“For me, it's fun to experience something I never lived through before,” said Sue Ellison.

Because in this time, where the future is so uncertain, looking back could just be the way to move forward.

“We’ve decided we're not going to quit. We're not going to give up,” said Stricker. “No matter how long this takes, we are in it for the long haul. We just hope it's not much longer.”

Because with some imagination, this team can keep Tucson’s iconic neon lights bright.