A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Pepper Pod is a family affair — for the Bartons and their customers; celebrating 45 years in Newport

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune Contributor

It’s 9 a.m., which of course means it’s time for Paul Baker to visit the office. At least, that’s what he calls it.

But after 45 years, you figure he’s earned the right.

Baker, 80, is a retired Newport schoolteacher, and each day he finds himself coming to this same place. In reality, the office is a booth – the last one on the right side – and as other customers hustle and bustle around him, he makes his way over and sits down.

“I’ve been here ever since the first day they opened,” he says, ordering a cup of coffee. Eggs, bacon and sausage will follow.

Paul Baker at his 'office' (Photos by Ryan Clark)

Paul Baker at his ‘office’ (Photo by Ryan Clark)

“He really has,” says Chris Barton, who oversees the morning shift. “Paul has seen it all – ever since we began.”

That’s the feeling projected at Pepper Pod restaurant, located at Seventh and Monmouth Streets in Newport. It’s a place where even the customers are family.

Now, everyone is joining that family to celebrate the restaurant’s 45th birthday. From those customers who have frequented the restaurant since the beginning, to others who have recently wandered in for lunch for the first time, everyone’s invited.

“It’s amazing they’ve been around that long,” Baker says. “You’ve seen a lot of other places come and go in that time. That says something about the quality here.”

People with ‘drive’ and ‘vision’

“My father, Eddie Barton, started the Pepper Pod in 1956 in Cincinnati, and I worked and helped at age 13 with him as a dishwasher,” says Bill Barton, the second in the three generations of Bartons who have run Pepper Pod. “We started out as a chili parlor. It was originally Pepper Pod Chili Bar, and we were in Cincinnati for 22 years. Our business was small and not enough to support three families – my brother became part of the business also.”

So in September 1970, Ed and Bill partnered up and bought the restaurant across the river at 703 Monmouth St.

They called it Pepper Pod. And along the way, they would become known for serving breakfasts and burgers 24 hours a day. For years, they have grilled steaks and stuffed omelets. They have served both Newport’s elite – witness the diner at lunchtime as it’s filled with men in business suits grabbing burgers – as well as the city’s night owls, which could include concert-goers or local college kids coming in for an extra-late (or extra-early) breakfast.

Owner Bill Barnes

Owner Bill Barton (Photo provided)

And of course, there was the creation of the Big Eddie. Named after the restaurant’s founder, it is a double-patty burger with cheese, pickles, lettuce and tartar sauce. Not a Big Boy, mind you. A Big Eddie.

“It took people with the drive and the vision to do this,” Chris Barton says.

Even when Ed passed away in 1988, his sons and grandsons took over and kept the dream alive.

Along the way, Pepper Pod became a fixture in Newport. Its employees were able to witness a renaissance in the city that brought new patrons to the establishment. Now, Pepper Pod has weekly lunch meetings in their non-smoking room every Tuesday at noon for the Newport Optimists and every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. for the Campbell County Rotary.

“We’ve got the new apartments coming in down by the Levee, and there’s a revitalization in Newport,” Chris says. “Newport is a great place to be – there are great things going on here.”

The Bartons closed the Cincinnati restaurant in 1978, and three of Bill’s sons, Brian, Scott, and Chris, are his partners in the business now (Chris’ wife, Nicole, also works there).

They invite customers to come in and visit their special non-smoking dining room, which is open during breakfast, lunch, or really anytime anyone requests it.

“So after 45 years in this location, we are celebrating,” Bill said.

‘It’s like ‘Cheers’ with food’

The Bartons

The Bartons: Scott, Brian, Chris. Bill is in photo at left; grandpa Ed is on the right (Photo provided)

Chris Barton is 35 years old, and he’s been working at Pepper Pod since he was 11, when he cleaned tables and washed dishes.

It took a while for him to realize the family business would be his calling. He went to college for a year, then came back. He tried other things. But always, he returned to Pepper Pod.

“I’ve done it all,” he said. “The best thing about it is the people, the different characters. We’ve got judges, lawyers, and eccentric homeless people – you see all different types. It’s like ‘Cheers’ with food, where everybody knows everybody.”

Like 31-year-old Covington resident Rich Shivener, a musician and graduate student at the University of Cincinnati who remembers his fair share of early mornings at the restaurant.

“For years, Pepper Pod was the go-to late night place after shows at the original Southgate House,” he said. “The tater tots hit the spot at 3 a.m.”

And Gavin Colton and Rianna Gayheart, students at Northern Kentucky University who have shared late-night fun at the restaurant with friends.

“I thought the staff was personable and welcoming,” said Colton, a 21-year-old senior from Ireland. “I was there for breakfast and it was delicious.”

“The first time I went to Pepper Pod was the summer before my freshman year and I absolutely loved it!” said the 21-year-old Gayheart, a senior from Owenton. “Coming from a small town it really gives you that diner feeling and everyone there is so nice. I try to go back as much as I can – my favorite meal is definitely the biscuits and gravy!”

Inside the Pepper Pod

Inside the Pepper Pod (Photo by Ryan Clark)

In one year, Bill Barton points out, Pepper Pod will celebrate 60 total years in business run by the Barton family.

“And everything is still the same,” Paul Baker says from his “office” booth. “There’s not a place in town where you can get this quality of food for these prices. It’s clean, and the service is still outstanding.”

He took another drink of coffee and smiled.

“It’s why I come here every day.”

Celebrate with Pepper Pod:

To celebrate their 45th anniversary, Pepper Pod is offering the following through the end of October (for inside only):

– The Big Eddie – 2 for $5 – all day (2 ground beef patties on a double decker bun)

– Breaded cod fish sandwiches – 2 for $5 – all day

– Full breakfast for $5.29 (ham, bacon or sausage patties, 2 eggs, hash browns and toast with free coffee)


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  1. Jeff Redmon says:

    Been coming to Pepper Pod since I met my wife in April 1990. Food is great and the staff knows you by name.

  2. James Kaeff says:

    Love this place

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