Fred "Pal" Barger '55
2001 Outstanding Alumnus
Would you like a Sauceburger? Pal Barger admits that copied ideas are sometimes the best. Barger decided to copy a small restaurant called 2J's located near the Texas Air Force base where he was stationed in 1953. Peering through the glass watching the operation, and timing their movements, he knew this concept would work. Barger did not plan to return to his hometown of Kingsport to enter the restaurant business, but it was fortunate for the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region that Barger decided to do just that. The result: a local fast food favorite resulted known as Pal's Sudden Service.
Barger was not new to the hospitality industry because his parents, Fred, Sr., and Helen Barger, raised him to understand the meaning of hospitality. While attending Dobyns-Bennett High School, he worked as a carhop at Skoby's, the barbecue drive-in his parents opened in 1946. He did not have any intentions of following in their footsteps until he saw 2J's, the first self-service burger restaurant Barger had seen. He was very inquisitive and approached the owners about their operation. However, the owners were not very helpful, so Barger visited the restaurant often, taking note of everything.
In 1953, Barger received an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force and returned to Kingsport. He attended ETSU and received his degree in business in 1955 and then ran a small restaurant in Marion, Va., for a year. When he had enough money saved, the first Pal's Sudden Service opened on Revere Street in Kingsport in 1956. Two more Pal's opened in Kingsport and Elizabethton within a couple of years. Barger also built and operated the Olde West Dinner Theatre for 13 years. Part of his enjoyment with the theatre was selecting the cast and shows from New York. Fred, Sr., passed away in 1971, and Skoby's landed in Pal's lap to operate. After a few years of hamburgers, hot dogs, and fine dining, Pal decided to sell the Olde West Dinner Theatre and expand the hot dog business. By June 2001, the business will have expanded to 17 locations in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Barger, however, does not boast Pal's Sudden Service as his only success.
Barger has been recognized for his efforts in making the Kingsport Convention and Civic Center a reality. He supported the concept, but opposed the original funding mechanism -- a proposed meal tax. He promised that if an alternative funding mechanism was developed he would apply the same energy and move toward making the conference center a reality. When the meal tax was scrapped and a half-percent increase in the local sales tax was implemented, Barger put his time and money toward the creation of CIVIC, which was dedicated to promoting the passage of the conference center referendum. With other volunteers, Barger rolled up his sleeves, walked the streets, made calls, answered phones, and developed a computerized system for personal contacts and letters that slowly built support for the project. He was presented the Kingsport Times-News Award for Distinguished Community Service for his efforts with this cause.
Barger has served on several local boards and the Tennessee Restaurant Association, and he was inducted into that association's Hall of Fame. He encourages those who are interested in Total Quality Management to attend seminars and classes that are held monthly and taught by the managing partners at Pal's.
Barger is also very active at his alma mater. He has served on the ETSU Foundation for many years and provides his time and financial support unselfishly. He also serves on ETSU's Roan Scholars Leadership Program Committee. In the community, the United Way and the Santa Train have also gained Pal's support. Student organizations, as well as the ETSU PRIDE Week program, have benefited from donations provided by local Pal's Sudden Service restaurants.
Barger and his wife, Sharon, live in Kingsport. They have three children and four grandchildren. Barger enjoys traveling, practical jokes, and making hot dogs. He has been known to pull a few practical jokes, but it's a fact that hot dogs are not a joking matter. Hot dogs are serious business.