While the sign under the iconic pig at Porky's reads, "Twin Cities best burger in 2 minutes," the wait was considerably longer Thursday as patrons learned of the restaurant's imminent demise.
Porky's, since 1953 the Twin Cities' signature drive-in restaurant, will serve its last burger and root beer float Sunday. It is on the verge of being sold.
The smiling face of Porky, top hat and all, will come down once the deal is locked up between the Truelson family and neighboring Episcopal Homes, a longtime senior living facility.
While Porky's, at 1890 University Av. in St. Paul, "has always been doing OK [and] was not losing money, it's just a business decision," said Nora Truelson, who began at Porky's as a carhop in 1957. She became the owner's girlfriend and eventually his wife and business partner until Ray Truelson died in 1994.
The Central Corridor light-rail line, which is being built to connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis, "is going to ruin the avenue, and I'm sure there isn't going to be any parking," she said, adding that high taxes and disruption from the line's construction were also factors.
Episcopal Homes CEO Marvin Plakut said the Truelsons "approached us last July and said they wanted to sell. We are very close to making this happen. I would never have tried to bring about closing such a fine establishment with such a fine tradition."
Judy Mueller brokered the imminent sale on behalf of the Truelsons and also has been one of Porky's most loyal customers. "Porky's is an icon, no question about it," she said.
Porky's not only rode the cruisin' craze of the 1950s, but it became a magnet many years later for many a car buff who made the drive-in part of the nostalgic experience fed by the popular 1973 movie "American Graffiti."
Sitting at an outdoor table with his wife, Sharon, and three friends Thursday, Dennis Gerber said he's been a Porky's regular since it opened. In 1956, he would drive there in his green 1950 Buick two-door hardtop with "nice clean" whitewalls.
The Gerbers, now Roseville residents, say Porky's was a stop on a regular cruising route. They pointed to the line of parking places against the fence as the "cool spots" to snag for watching others roll in.
Their friend Greg Fiber, who drove a 1962 Corvette or a red 1962 Chevy Impala in the 1960s, pointed nostalgically to the parking spot where he met a girl he dated for seven years. "It's a part of history that's going away," he said.
As for the future of the property, Plakut said it will "take several months" for Episcopal Homes' leadership to come up with a plan. "We are not in a rush," he said, adding that he expects the half-acre tract will be used "along the lines" of serving seniors.
Truelson said that she and her son, Tryg Truelson, are still brainstorming something special on the last day of Porky's.
Meantime, on Thursday, the crowd lingered even as lunchtime came and went. There were memories to relive.
Russ and Evelyn Rau ordered burgers, onion rings and a strawberry malt to share -- just as they've done since 1959.
"When you get older, so many things from your past seem to disappear," said Evelyn, 69, who would still swing by with Russ whenever possible from their home in Inver Grove Heights.
At another table sat Jim Alexander, who grew up in St. Paul and now lives in Shoreview. He said he proposed to his wife along the back fence.
They are still together.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749