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diners take ‘flight’ at the parachute inn restaurant
by Emily Merrell, photography by Amy Long

Parachute Inn Restaurant in Walnut Ridge is giving a new and improved meaning to “airplane food.” Part of this Southern home-style restaurant is housed in a retired and reconfigured Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 jet, giving diners a unique experience while they enjoy a menu of familiar fares.

Walnut Ridge’s unique eatery opened in 2001 after a lighthearted conversation between friends became a reality. Former owner Donna Roberts was joking around with Steve Manley, who owned Universal Assets and disassembled aircraft at the Walnut Ridge Airport, that he should give her an old airplane. Much to Roberts’ surprise, Manley told her to pick one out and gave her the old Boeing. Roberts hired a carpenter to turn the seats around and install tables, and Parachute Inn was born.

The restaurant changed hands in 2012 when Doris Gustin Evans purchased it after some encouragement from her father, Tracy, a WWII veteran who served in the Air Force. Evans was born in McCrory and has worked as a restaurant manager and corporate investigator in Kansas, California and Arizona. She moved back home to Walnut Ridge in 2002 to be near her parents, who sparked her interest in Parachute Inn.

“My dad showed me the restaurant and said ‘You should buy this one day,’ I think so I could be closer to him,” said Evans.

She now helps to care for her aging parents while also operating the restaurant, which attracts visitors from near and far; it has been featured in USA Today, Dallas Morning News and on ABC.

“I love it,” said Evans. “On any given day, I get the pleasure of watching airplanes fly in just to come dine here – people from all over the U.S.”

Evans says Parachute Inn is a wonderful location for field trips. The WWII Wings of Honor Museum is located next to the restaurant, and the cockpit is always a hit. Diners can even store their purses and jackets in the overhead bins and check out the cockpit while they eat.

“Young or old, they love playing around in the cockpit,” said Evans. “It’s funny to hear the kids saying, ‘Buckle up, we are going to crash,’ or ‘They are taking us to Hawaii.’”

Parachute Inn serves up home-style cooking Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Fridays, the fish buffet is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays, the regular menu is available from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., then the fish and seafood buffet is open from 4:30-8 p.m. Locals also love the deep-fried pies, which are available any time, along with delicious appetizers. Reservations are available for birthday parties.

For more information, find Parachute Inn Restaurant on Facebook or call (870) 926-2502 or (870) 886-5918.