When Frank Scibelli took over the former Penguin and NC Red space in February, he planned to restore and save the beloved Penguin Drive-In sign.
The FS Food Group restaurateur told me then he wanted to get the sign back to its former glory — rotating with lights — as a way to celebrate the neighborhood’s history.
But now, as The Penguin charts its come-back in a new Dilworth space, Scibelli says keeping the sign up could create confusion for diners. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea from a business standpoint,” he says. “I’d have people showing up thinking it was The Penguin.”
What’s happening: The iconic sign will be removed this Friday, September 3 at 3:30pm from outside Scibelli’s newly opened Calle Sol. Scibelli tells me it’ll then be restored and donated to the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association, which plans to hang the panels at Midwood Park and Charlotte Museum of History.
- Jeremy Markovich of North Carolina Rabbit Hole first broke the news of the sign removal date. Markovich first started following The Penguin saga a decade ago with this juicy Charlotte magazine story.
“Brian Rowe and Jimmy King’s Penguin was a Plaza Midwood institution for dive bar food, drinks and fun. Everyone hated to see it go, but PMNA is happy to help preserve the beloved sign and memory of the Penguin,” said Lisa Swayne Proud, president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association, in a statement Wednesday.
Background: The Penguin was a home for many, a family-run spot for much of its 60-year history. Since its 2014 closure, the building has changed hands three times — from an upscale Mexican restaurant named Comida to the New England-meets-Southern NC Red to today, a Latin café and cevicheria called Calle Sol.
The sign was a constant throughout the turnover, so what changed?
The diner’s return: The Penguin’s Martin Sprock told CBJ in May he planned to resurrect the old-school diner in a new 4,000-square-foot space at 1531 East Boulevard, the former home to Mayo Bird and The Summit Room.
- “We’re so excited, I’m about to jump out of my skin,” Sprock told CBJ then.
What’s next: Scibelli now plans to put up a Calle Sol sign in place of the old Penguin Drive-In one, the latest change for a neighborhood — and city — constantly changing.