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In 1960, Bernell “Fatman” Austin (born on February 26,1921) leased a parcel of land east of Atkins (Pope County) from Griffin Oil Co. for ten dollars a month and began building a drive-in restaurant. The Duchess Drive In, a small pink building, opened for business in April 1960, just across the highway from Atkins Pickle Plant, the pickle capital of Arkansas. As business increased, with U.S. 64 being the main road to Little Rock (Pulaski County), Austin started toying with the idea of a gimmick to attract additional business.
The first fried dill pickles ever sold anywhere were sold in the summer of 1963 at fifteen cents for an order of fifteen hamburger slices. They still did not taste or look just as Austin had hoped, so he continued to research and develop his idea of the perfect product.
By late summer, he had perfected the pickle to what it is today: a large pickle sliced lengthwise and breaded in the family’s secret recipe, then deep-fried to a golden texture. Soon, the fried dill pickle was known for miles in every direction. As the fried dill pickle gained popularity, many other restaurants, especially in the South, began to copy Austin’s creation, using the hamburger-sliced pickle, but to this day, none have been able to copy his secret breading.
By the mid-1960s, the state had made plans to build Interstate 40 through Atkins, diverting traffic from the pink building. Austin found land close to the new interstate and built a new drive-in, the Loner (1968–78), bringing the Duchess to a close in September 1968. About two weeks later, an eighteen-wheeler ran through the corner of the Duchess building, destroying the original home of the fried dill pickle. The new restaurant was a popular place for travelers, especially fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks traveling back and forth to home games in Fayetteville (Washington County).
The “Fatman” sold the Loner on December 1, 1978, and retired from the restaurant business. He died on Sunday, September 28, 1999, at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock. However, Fatman’s Original Fried Dill Pickles (as they are called today) are still a crowd pleaser at the annual two-day Picklefest held every May in downtown Atkins; the Austin family sells an estimated 2,500 orders during the festival, still using the original secret recipe and donating money raised to scholarships and charities “Fatman” had supported.
For additional information:Albright, Charles. “Farewell to the Fatman.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 27, 1999, p. 4F.
“Celebrating Arkansas.” No. 3. Conway, AR: AETN. Broadcast on March 5, 2003.Tyson, Van. “Bernell Austin, Fried Dill Pickle Creator, Died.” Atkins Chronicle. October 6, 1999, p. 2A
Gearld David AustinAtkins, Arkansas
Last Updated 5/5/2010
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