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Polly’s is 50, still going strong

Polly’s is 50, still going strong
Polly’s is 50, still going strong
Elmer and Pauline (Polly) Gleitz (below) opened Polly's Freeze drive-in restaurant in Edwardsville 50 years ago. Their daughter, Donna Eisert, and her husband, Paul, above, have kept the popular business going strong, with few changes. (Photos by Randy West)

Before there was Elvis, before a man walked on the moon, and way before the invention of personal computers, Polly’s Freeze was serving ice cream, sandwiches and drinks, by the side of S.R. 62, in the laid-back Maplewood neighborhood of Edwardsville, to neighbors and motorists who were looking for a sweet treat and a place to relax.
Now, all this week, Polly’s Freeze is celebrating its 50th anniversary with daily specials on food, live music, even a “pajama party” Friday evening from 8 to midnight.
“Polly’s Freeze is one of the longest continuously operated, fast-food, drive-in restaurants in Southern Indiana,” said Donna Eisert, 61, whose parents, Elmer and Pauline (Polly) Gleitz, opened the establishment 50 years ago, on May 30, 1952.
“My mother’s nickname was Polly, so they named the restaurant after her,” Eisert said. “The parrot neon sign by the road was installed when the restaurant opened and has been our logo ever since.”
“We decided to celebrate the anniversary this week instead of on the week of May 30 because Memorial Day week would have been too busy for us to do anything special,” Eisert said.
“We asked the employees what we should do to celebrate, and they suggested staying open 50 hours straight. That would have been too exhausting, so the second choice was to have a pajama party Friday evening. We’ll see how that goes.”
In addition, there will be free Cokes, cotton candy and popcorn for patrons and live music Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday. Customers who arrive in classic cars will receive a free ice cream cone.
Donna and her husband, Paul, 62, have operated the walk-up restaurant for almost 30 years now since taking over when Elmer died in 1974. Paul Eisert had worked at the restaurant part-time for two years before that.
“The location of the restaurant was perfect for its time. State highway 62 was heavily traveled because it was the main road to New Albany and Louisville from Lanesville and Corydon,” Eisert said. “The later building of I-64 took much of the traffic off 62, but the customers have remained.
“My mother went to meetings and fought the building of I-64 because she thought the highway would destroy the smaller communities and the small businesses there. She died in 1968, and by that time the highway had reached Edwardsville, and many of the highway workers were our customers,” Eisert said.
“Although the restaurant is 50 years old, the building is much the same as it was in the 1950s when it first opened … Over the years we made a few changes, but the restaurant is pretty much unchanged,” Donna said.
“We often have customers tell us the place looks the same as they remember it from when they were children. Many people come here and tell us about the fond memories they have of coming to this restaurant.”
Eisert, who was 10 when her parents opened Polly’s, in what had been a dance hall or “road house,” and more or less grew up in the restaurant, said that over the years Polly’s Freeze has been a good place to take a date or go after school. Surely, just about everyone in Harrison and Floyd counties has had a “Pollyburger” at one time or another.
“Our family lived in a house that is part of the restaurant building, and I remember how my mother would stop hanging clothes in the back yard to go wait on customers. Paul and I live in a house next door to the restaurant now.
“It was great living in an ice cream store when I was young, but when I got older and had to work here, it became just a job,” Eisert said.
“My father owned and operated a Standard Oil service station for 23 years in the Louisville area. For the first two years Polly’s Freeze was open, he continued to operate the service station until the restaurant became too much work,” Eisert said. “He left that and worked here full- time.”
“In the beginning, my parents just sold soft-serve ice cream, drinks and hot dogs. Then my mother began making barbecue, to put on the hot dogs, from a recipe she found somewhere,” Eisert said. “To this day, we still make the barbecue the way she did, using the same recipe my mother used. A few years later, they added a grill and fryers to the restaurant, which expanded the food they served.”
“We invite everyone to come help us celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Eisert said. “Bring a lawn chair and relax for a while.”
Here are some of the specials being offered during anniversary week:
Today — Buy any sandwich and get french fries for 50 cents.
Thursday — Get an upside-down banana split for 50 cents off.
Friday — Buy any sandwich and get french fries for 50 cents. Buy a shake, large soda, malt or float and get 50 cents off.
Friday evening — Live music by Larry Farr, 7 to 9; pajama party 8 to midnight.
Saturday — Buy any sandwich and get french fries for 50 cents. Buy a shake, large soda, malt or float and get 50 cents off. Arrive in a classic car and get a free ice cream cone.
Saturday evening — Live music by “Out of Bounds,”‘ 8:30 to 10:30.
Sunday — Fries, onion rings, mushrooms 50 cents off. Buy a medium ice cream cone, get a second one for 50 cents; sundaes 50 cents off. Music by “Traditional Sounds.”