Frederick “Pal” Barger Jr.
History-making restaurateur and philanthropist Pal Barger passes at age 90
Kingsport, Tenn. – The founder of Pal’s Sudden Service, the award-winning regional fast-food chain, Frederick “Pal” Barger Jr. died on October 29, 2020 at the age of 90, after two years of declining health.
In 1956, in downtown Kingsport Pal Barger built the first restaurant to bear his nickname. His focus on serving quality food quickly would be the cornerstone of a regional burger chain empire in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. His passion for excellence led to Pal’s Sudden Service earning the honor of being the first restaurant operation to earn the prestigious Baldrige National Quality Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as two Excellence Awards from Tennessee’s Center for Performance Excellence.
Born on August 23, 1930, Barger worked in the restaurant business for more than 70 years. In 1946, his parents, Fred and Helen Barger, opened Skoby’s Drive-In in Kingsport, and Pal went to work as a carhop. Skoby’s would be transformed by Pal Barger into a fine dining mecca following the death of his father in 1971. Barger also created and operated the Olde West Dinner Theater and Sharon’s BBQ.
Pal Barger’s own commitment to corporate citizenship is legendary in his hometown and across the region. He was a member of the East Tennessee State University Foundation and the Roan Scholars Leadership Program Committee. For his contributions, he was named the university’s Alumnus of the Year in 2001 and given the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He also purchased an abandoned downtown building in Kingsport to house Northeast State Community College’s Pal Barger Regional Center for Automotive Programs. In July of 2019, Pal Barger was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy from the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Barger received the Kingsport Times-News Award for Distinguished Community Service for his efforts in helping make Kingsport's Meadowview Conference Resort & Convention Center a reality. He served on several boards across the region and was inducted into the Tennessee Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame.
He was a leader and major contributor to the design and construction of a new athletic fieldhouse at his high school alma mater, Dobyns-Bennett. Later he purchased for the school the region’s largest jumbotron scoreboard for the football stadium. He and wife, Sharon, financed Pal’s Round House to house the antique carousel refurbished by the community at the Kingsport’s Farmer’s Market.
A graduate of Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett high school and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Barger graduated from East Tennessee State University with a degree in business in 1955.
Known for his wit and sense of humor, Barger was beloved by everyone he met and was honored with a proclamation by the City of Kingsport in 2016 noting the 60th year of his restaurant chain’s historic rise to industry leadership and for his support to the community.
Frederick “Pal” Barger was preceded in death by his wife and soulmate, Sharon, and by his first wife Carolyn, the mother of his children. He is survived by his children, Rick (Kelley) Barger, Christine (Mike Morison) Barger and devoted stepdaughter Christy (John) Stout, all of Kingsport, Tenn. Also surviving are grandchildren Landon (Madara) Pratt and Jonathan (Tiffany) Pratt; great grandchildren Emma and Austyn Pratt; and beloved step-grandchildren Lottie and Zoe Stout.
The family owes deep gratitude to the loving caregivers who did a phenomenal job of making his life enjoyable for the past three years. Their 24/7 dedication to his comfort, health and happiness was beyond anyone’s expectations. Led by Cindy Woods, RN, the team included Ginger Mercer, Donna Pinson, Erin Kubisiak, Cindy Walker and Phyllis Williams.
Because of COVID-19 concerns there will be a private family service and a celebration of life at a later time.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (www.michaeljfox.org) or to your favorite charity. Please visit www.HamlettDobson.com to leave on-line condolences for the family.