RICHMOND, Va. -- If you blink when you're driving by Pop's Dogs and Ma's Burgers, you might just miss it.
It may be the smallest restaurant in Central Virginia with space for just six stools -- it’s a tight squeeze.
“We’ve learned we’re not just a small business. We’re a micro-business,” co-owner Melody Walden said. “We enjoy cooking. We enjoy food. We enjoy what we do.”
But what Pop’s and Ma’s lacks in space, Bruce Pettie said the owners make up for in taste.
“You walk in the door they know who you are,” said Pettie.
The Lakeside native drops in most days to get his usual.
“The cheeseburger is my favorite thing. The cheeseburger and french fries,” said Pettie.
While the meals satisfy your hunger, the distinct decor is a feast for your eyes.
“There are telephones hanging on the walls. There are neon signs. Clocks. Radios to bring the old memories back,” co-owner Rich Walden said.
Husband and wife Richard and Melody Walden serve more than American staples. You get a history lesson too.
“This was the main thoroughfare from Canada to the Keys. You went Route One. This is our Route 66,” Melody said.
The building has housed a restaurant for 40 years. Before that a gas station and roadside motel.
“It’s had a hard life. 1937 I bet there wasn’t a lot of cars going up and down the road to buy gas,” Richard said.
Richard and Melody opened Pop’s and Ma’s eight years ago.
“We want to know how you feel. We want you to enjoy your food while you’re here,” Melody said.
The couple poured their life savings into realizing their dream.
“It is the heart and soul. It is my life. I don’t have. They say if you don’t have anything do what you know and this is what I know. So. I hope it continues to go on,” Richard said.
The Waldens work six, sometimes seven, days a week waiting on their customers, which can be challenging when patrons stay away.
“The pandemic hit us like a train,” Richard said. “I cried so hard to get here. It is really tough. I didn’t realize how tough it was, but it's tough.”
During COVID breakfast, lunch and dinner orders have plummeted. Catering contracts canceled.
“It has been a struggle. Our business has been down 80% than last year,” Melody said.
Restrictions have cut their seating capacity from six to three. Shutting down was a real possibility.
“Oh my goodness. It blew my mind. I had $52 in my checking account after we paid the bills,” Richard said.
But the Waldens are hanging on by a crumb.
“Whatever it takes. If I have to put on a hot dog suit and dancing out front, then I’m dancing,” Melody said.
The owners rely on take-out calls from long-time customers like Michelle Jackson.
“The food is great. I would often think about how they were doing. How were they making it,” said Jackson.
“My neighborhood has taken care of me and we’re trying to take care of them,” said Melody.
To say that Pop’s and Ma’s is a full-service restaurant would be an understatement.
“I don’t think I own it. It owns me. After I’m gone, I try to keep it like this for the next person you know,” said Richard.
The Waldens give so much of themselves, and then some -- even during a pandemic.
“My wonderful husband gave up his kidney almost a whole year ago,” said Melody.
Richard went under the knife when he heard someone was in need.
“March 18 I donated my kidney. I have my little kidney medal,” said Richard.
The 59-year-old saved the life of a stranger.
“They told me that it was a 34-year-old woman in Washington that has my kidney so,” said Richard.
Melody said her husband returned to work a week later.
“He has a really big heart and he is one kidney short,” she said.
At service comes with more than a smile in here.
Pettie said Pop's and Ma's is the heartbeat of the neighborhood.
“I like to give them as much support as I can and be here. That is why I make it a habit to come. This is social media right here,” said Bruce.
A tiny restaurant struggling to stay open.
“As long as we can keep our lights on and the mortgage paid and our bills paid we’re going to be here,” Melody said.
If you are hungry the Waldens said there is always room for one more.
“Have to keep moving. Pandemic or no pandemic we’ll survive one way or another. We don’t have no choice,” said Richard.
Pop’s Dogs and Ma’s Burgers is located at 7301 Brook Road in Henrico.
Breakfast is served all day.
The grill is sizzling six days a week from Monday through Saturday.
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