Subscribe for 99¢

Growing up in Wright City in the 1970s, everybody in town knew the Copeland sisters.

Part of it had to do with the fact that 10 girls were in the family. Part of it was that one of them always seemed to be working at Big Boy's, a popular restaurant known for its all-you-can-eat fried chicken, homemade cornbread sticks and cream pies.

Janet Bradshaw, one of the sisters, said she and her siblings didn't have much when they were growing up, but her job there allowed her to help out her parents financially. It also taught her to take pride in her appearance.

"You had to be in tip-top shape to work there," she said. "We wore white dresses, and if it was too short or you had a runner in your hose or it looked like you had been up all night, they'd send you home."

When the restaurant was abruptly shuttered by state tax investigators in April 2005, Margaret Dixon, another of the Copeland girls, was working there as a manager. Owners Paul Scott King Sr. and his son, Kevin King, had failed to pay sales tax.

For the sisters and many others in the community, the closing of the restaurant was like a death in the family. They kept thinking that it would reopen.

But as the months turned into years, the chances grew bleaker. City officials battled with the Kings as the Interstate 70 roadside property fell into disrepair and became an eyesore and a embarrassment to the small Warren County town.

Eventually the property was put up for sale, and in January, Wright City bought the 2.5-acre site for $170,000. Since then it has been moving toward demolition.

In the middle of all this, Bradshaw, 53, who has a strong religious faith, said she felt a calling to try to reopen the restaurant. She hadn't been in the business for years; in fact, she owns an insurance agency in town.

"The older you get, the more nostalgic you get, and that place was a piece of me," she said. "God gave me a servant's heart, so that matches up with the restaurant."

Her husband, John, 48, agreed to explore the idea, but they ran into one problem after another. The down economy didn't help. They started looking for alternate sites for the restaurant.

The Bradshaws were able to work out a lease this summer on a building at 275 West North Service Road, across the highway from the old site. They decided to name it Big Boys at Gerilyn's because that is Janet Bradshaw's middle name. It'll be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The former landmark sign depicting a smiling, buck-toothed man wearing a gray tuxedo and holding a platter of chicken is shown on a window of the restaurant, the menu and appears as a cardboard cutout in the entryway.

The restaurant seats 182 people and has a hand-painted mural like the old place that depicts the farm where the owners raised the chickens they served. In addition to the handmade wooden tables, booths line a wall of windows. A bar will serve coffee and desserts, not alcohol. The two-sided menu features many of the original items made from the same recipes.

"Once you make something for so many years, you don't forget how to make it," Bradshaw said.

Just before opening the doors for the first time Monday morning, John Bradshaw, a longtime athletic coach, led some of the 40 staff members in a prayer that was part pep talk.

"Everything we do today we do it the best we can, and we are going to succeed," he said.

Judy Moorman and Larry Rose were among the first customers. Moorman said she was a waitress at the old restaurant when she was in high school and has been counting down the days until the new Big Boys opened. They got the all-you-can-eat fried chicken.

"It has the same atmosphere as the old place, only better," she said.

Janet Bradshaw bustled from the kitchen to the dining room, and on one of her circuits, reminded a waitress to tuck in her shirt.

Dixon, 62, came out of retirement to help her sister and brother-in-law open the restaurant, and she welcomed customers and rang up their orders.

"This takes me back to when I was young," she said.

For the Copeland sisters and this small community, a part of the old days has been restored.

Breaking News e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.