SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twenty-four years ago, Dock and Minnie Leonard sold their hand-dipped, deep-fried whiting fish sandwiches at a stand to raise money for their church. They exceeded the goal they'd set for Allen Chapel AME Church at that first sale, but their customers clamored for more.
They held more sales, and donated the money to their church. Demand grew, and the Leonards took their fish sandwiches on the road to fairs and festivals, where they became standard fare. They even did a season's stint as concessionaires at Mountaineer Stadium in Morgantown at WVU football games during their daughter Michelle's senior year as a student there.
In 2007, they opened a take-out only place on Shrewsbury Street in Charleston, and expanded their menu to include catfish, whole chicken wings and ribs.
Loyal customers carried their orders away from the Shrewsbury storefront, but many urged the Leonards to open a full-service, sit down restaurant. Minnie reluctantly looked for an empty restaurant.
"I always said I would never have a full restaurant," she said. "But I enjoy making people happy with food. People said they want to sit down. That's how we came to be here."
The Leonards opened Leonard's Restaurant at 244 Seventh Ave. in South Charleston in September. A modest storefront opens into the long, narrow grill and restaurant, formerly the home of Romeo's. Before that, Thabit's Grille occupied the space for 50 years, according to Bob Anderson, executive director of South Charleston Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
The original decorative tile floor, the painted tin ceiling and the well-worn red booths lining one wall speak to the building's long-time presence on the block. Aside from the expected cleaning and cosmetic work, the Leonards allowed the restaurant to retain much of its vintage look.
"We did bring in our own fryers. They're seasoned to our taste," Minnie said.
In their new space, they expanded their menu to include pork chops, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, thick-sliced hot bologna sandwiches slathered with their homemade barbecue sauce and occasional specials such as pigs feet, baked steak and smothered pork chops.
Side dishes include fried mushrooms and okra, greens, green beans, potato salad, slaw and Dock's special five-cheese version of macaroni and cheese.