By Rick Miller
Earl’s Drive-In, “Home of the Original Fruit Jar Drinkers,” may have closed in 2009, but the property will become home to a new wedding venue and year-round events center called The Annex.
Earl’s, an iconic restaurant and music venue on Route 16 in Chafee, just north of the Cattaraugus/Erie County line, was owned and operated for 56 years by the late Earl Northrup, a lover of country, bluegrass and gospel music.
There were numerous displays of musical memorabilia from posters and photographs to musical instruments of performers at Earl’s. Those who performed there included Loretta Lynn, Boxcar Willie, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe.
Earl’s was known for its shepherd’s pie, mac and cheese and chicken wings among other foods. Everyone raved about the drive-in’s homemade pies.
On Thursday, the building, which had been used mostly for storage over the past seven years, was demolished to make way for the new 14,000 square-foot facility.
Michelle Armstrong, who worked as a waitress at Earl’s nearly 40 years ago, and her daughters-in-law Samantha and Stephanie will operate The Annex.
And yes, it will contain some elements of Earl’s Restaurant. A portion of the floor will be used to make a sign for The Annex, Armstrong said. An I-beam will be used in the new facility.
It will also have a display of memorabilia from Earl’s including photographs of the original Earl’s restaurant and its successor, which was demolished last week.
Armstrong and her husband Terry own Pioneer Motorsports, which is located across the road from the Earl’s property. It was built in 2000, but the business dates back to the late 1960s when Terry Armstrong’s father, Ken, started a business in his garage.
The Armstrongs bought the nine-acre property from the Northrup family in 2012.
Michelle Armstrong said the seed for the wedding venue and events center during a family wedding at the rustic barn on the property in 2016. Another wedding on the property the following year cemented the idea.
Armstrong agreed that Earl, with his unmistakable mutton chop sideburns and western attire, would like the fact that the property would remain in the entertainment business. “He was a very wise man.”
The facility will be open year-round for such events as weddings and receptions, local proms, concerts and corporate meetings, said Armstrong, a former manager of the Yorkshire Inn.
It will be located at the back portion of the property. The site of the former restaurant will become part of the parking lot. There is also a pavilion, a large barn used for storage, Earl’s stage and a two-car garage on the property. “The grounds are beautiful,” she said.
The Armstrongs hope to start construction in the fall and be ready to open next May or June.