Hometown Eats: Ernie’s

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 4:29 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - “A market tradition.” That’s the answer you get when you ask someone to describe Ernie’s in downtown Roanoke.

“People like to eat. I try to help them as much as I can. Try to pay the bills and I’m happy,” said owner Bill Kopcial.

Ernie’s is tucked in the corner of Market Square and Kopcial carries on the tradition of the straight-shootin’ Ernie Arthur, who ran the popular dive bar Boiler Room for over 30 years.

“I’d used to go down and eat breakfast before I’d go to work and me and Ernie became good friends, and I just liked his style. It was his way or the highway,” joked Kopcial.

After 22 years of being a firefighter, Bill was ready for a change, Ernie was ready to sell, and the rest is history. History you can still find all over the walls inside this joint.

“There’s a picture of the Boiler Room and it was just like a beer joint, but he had all the greatest food in the world,” said Kopcial

A full breakfast and lunch menu that Bill and business partner Scotty Smith keep slingin’ out of this little kitchen every day.

“I was asked one time when we first opened about what kind of breakfast were you going to fix and it kind of confused me. I said the same one I grew up eating around here my whole life,” said Smith.

It’s the perfect partnership, Scottie on the grill, Bill up front with the jokes.

“He does all the work and I just aggravate the customers. It couldn’t work any better than that,” joked Kopcial.

Just take a look around and you can find Bill’s sense of humor, from the leg lamp to the top flight security looking down on the place and yes, it’s even on the menu.

“I just kind of make fun of some of the stuff and I’ve got the David Bowers sandwich and the lawyer Charlie sandwich and then I got a bunch of silly sandwiches on there that don’t even exist like the Willie fast. It’s all just fun for me,” said Kopcial.

But there’s no joking about how good the food is. That’s serious business. They offer a different special each week. The week of filming was a Cuban wrap.

“They got good food, it’s always reasonably priced. I eat here three or four times a week,” said regular customer Daryl.

“Probably 90 percent regulars and anybody from out of town that stays at the hotel they’ll come here,” said Kopcial.

One man was eating at the bar and was from out of town the day we were filming. “This man came all the way from Cincinnati just to eat at Ernie’s!” exclaimed Kopcial.

“I walked all through the market and landed here because local is best,” said the out-of-town guest.

And a restaurant is only as good as the people who work there.

“Those three girls back there, the two waitresses and the girl helping Scottie in the kitchen, are just the best and I’ve been around a long time and had a lot of people working for me,” Kopcial said proudly. “Everybody is perfect, they really are and I couldn’t be happier.”

Ernie’s, a hometown eat where history is the main course with a side dish of humor.

You can find Ernie’s at 107 Market Square SE, Roanoke, VA 24011.

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