Robert and Blanche Walp established the eatery in 1936 to fill their dream of cooking and serving home-style dinners to the public. The baking of her famous Shoofly pie and other goodies would be handled by Mrs. Walp, the business end was under Mr. Walp’s watchful eye, and daughter Thelma Walp tended to customer service.. The Walps took out a loan and negotiated with local suppliers to grant them short term credit.
The original diner was little more than a small kitchen, a counter with stools and a handful of booths. Two gasoline pumps sat in the front of Walp’s and a bunkhouse in the back welcomed weary truckers who traveled the once heavily used U.S. Route 22. Walp’s enjoyed immediate success.
At the end of 1940 the business was physically moved to its final Airport Road location via tractor-trailer. The Guest House was created out of an old barn that belonged to the property at the new location.
Walp’s underwent another transformation in 1960 when the original small diner was expanded due to the business’ popularity. The facility was enlarged to a 500-seat modern restaurant and banquet facility on the same property.
For over five decades, the Walp family and their kin served up local Pennsylvania Dutch delights to devoted patrons of the eatery including favorites like Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling, boova shenkle (pierogi-style filled noodles covered with beef gravy and buttered bread crumbs), schnitz un knepp, Shoofly pie, salad with hot bacon dressing, and pork and sauerkraut.
Blanche and Robert Walp had since passed away and son Donald Walp and daughter Thelma Walp Barne looked to retire, so in 1986, Walp’s Restaurant was sold to Frank Nikischer, Sr. and his wife Judith. One of the terms of the sale was to keep Blanche Walp’s original recipes.
Walp’s had long become the go-to place in the Lehigh Valley for family dinners, banquets, wedding receptions, reunions, countless birthday and anniversary celebrations, and where many of life’s milestones were marked.
Walp’s even placed hoist to many local and national celebrities including names such as Perry Como, Carol Burnett, Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye, The Monkees, Lee Iacocca, the Coal Region’s own Tommy Dorsey and Captain Kangaroo.
End of an era
On November 29, 1998 Walp’s Restaurant closed its doors. It was still a thriving business, but the current owners planned to retire, and there was no one in the family or prospective buyers interested in keeping the restaurant going.
Routinely on weekdays, the restaurant fed at least 500 guests. On weekend days, more than 1,000 guests poured in to eat from-scratch meals. Thanksgiving Day of 1998 was the restaurant’s biggest day ever in 62 years. Walp’s final day’s service saw 2000 guests served from the 11 a.m. opening to the 8 p.m. closing according to owner Nikischer .
After six-plus decades of serving the Lehigh Valley, the doors were locked and Walp’s restaurant became a fond memory. The property was eventually sold to the Rite Aid Corporation of Camp Hill, PA. as part of a planned expansion that never came to fruition which in turn sold the property to a developer.
In 2002, the property was purchased by the Wawa convenience store chain who tore down the restaurant and replaced it with a 5,000 square foot, 24-hour store and gas station.
Just one of the favorites
Patrons of Walp’s had their favorites among the delicious offerings served up for generations; one of the most popular was Walp’s Creamed Cabbage. Creamier than typical coleslaw, Walp’s creamed cabbage requires making the cream “dressing” 24 hours in advance in order for it to separate into the cream layer that sets this dish apart.
Be sure to chill the vinegar called for in the recipe before whipping it with the sour cream, heavy cream, salt and sugar (a tip directly from a former Walp’s employee).
Famous Walp’s Creamed CabbageCourse: Recipes
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chilled white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound grated (not shredded) white or green cabbage
- In a mixing bowl, combine sour cream, heavy cream, salt and sugar. Beat with an electric mixer, blender or hand-held egg beater at medium speed, gradually adding the chilled white vinegar, beating until the dressing begins to stand in peaks. Store in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Use only the top and very thick layer of cream dressing. Discard the bottom thin liquid that separated from the creamy layer.
- Discard the outer leaves and core of cabbage. Grate the rest of the cabbage to a medium consistency and combine gently with the thick cream dressing, just before serving it. Serve cold.
- Make sure the vinegar is very cold before adding it to the dressing mix.
- Recipe courtesy of Walp’s Restaurant