Ed Walker's Drive-in and Restaurant

Ed Walker’s Drive-in and Restaurant at 1500 Towson Avenue in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) is a thriving icon of the local pop culture/dining scene with its classic drive-in vibe and coin-operated mechanical razorback. Known as the “Home of the French Dip” and famous for its five-pound burgers, Ed Walker’s continues a long history dating back to at least the early 1930s. Ed Walker’s is thought to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Fort Smith and the only restaurant in the state with curbside beer service.

It is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction regarding Ed Walker’s. Some sources claimed that Ed Walker’s opened in 1943, but this year appears to be the date of the liquor license (number 972) still in use in the twenty-first century. The Southwest American newspaper records an eating establishment by this name appearing in 1933 as Ed Walker’s Café, located on the 300 block of Towson Avenue. According to local newspapers, the café was the scene of a police raid in January 1933 concerning illegal beer sales. In December of that same year, the café was mentioned as hosting a dinner and dance party in the establishment’s Black and Gold room with Jimmy Graces “Ozarkins” providing entertainment.

According to Fort Smith city directories, the existence of an Ed Walker’s eatery on Towson Avenue is sporadic, with gaps throughout the years. Finally, in 1957, the Fort Smith city directory listed a Walker’s Drive-in Restaurant at the present location of Ed Walker’s at 1500 Townson Avenue. At this time, the restaurant also served as residence for owners Ed and Thelma Walker. Edward Everett Walker died in 1958 at almost sixty-one years old. According to his obituary, Walker was a World War I veteran and a member of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church; he is buried in Fort Smith National Cemetery. Thelma Walker continued to own/operate and live at the restaurant until 1961, when the restaurant was sold to Herschel and Charlene McAlpin, who owned and operated Walker’s Drive-In until 1979.

Between 1979 and 2006, the restaurant went through a series of owners including Mettie Bullington, Jim Douglas, Bob T. and Judy L. Bullington, Herman Douglas, Donald David, Dan and Suzy Laird, Sam Berry, Leonard Czarnick, and Don Tate. During this time, the restaurant was listed under a variety of names, including Walker’s Drive-in Restaurant and Ed Walker’s Drive-in Restaurant. In 1987, under the ownership of the Bullingtons, the first mention was made of Walker’s being the “Home of the French Dip,” a claim Ed Walker’s became known for. In 2006, Ted Cserna purchased the establishment, becoming the first to own both building and property.

Under Cserna’s ownership, the restaurant underwent significant renovations, including enlargement of the parking area, HVAC modernization, and new technology for debit cards. In 2020, Ed Walker’s Drive-In & Restaurant was inducted into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.

For additional information:
“Deaths and Funerals.” Southwest American [Fort Smith, Arkansas], August 5, 1958.

“Ed Walker Arrested Again after Raid, Beer Seized.” Southwest American, Arkansas. January 9, 1933.

“Show Business Increase Is Celebrated by Theatres.” Southwest American, December 9, 1933.

Steven K. Kite and Roxanna E. Wylie
University of Arkansas at Fort Smith


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