For decades now, tourists have stopped midway on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to stand at the mouth of the Bay. They watch cargo and military ships, and if they're lucky, a nuclear sub glide by before ducking into the restaurant for some freshly fried flounder and hush puppies. But the restaurant will become history at the end of the month.
The Matson family is taking a break on their way home to New Hampshire. It's their first visit to the Virginia Originals gift shop and Chesapeake Grill. Gathered around the souvenir penny press machine, they watch sons Alex and Caleb take turns at the wheel.
"What did you get," dad Alex Matson III asks?
"The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel," son Alex responds.
Behind them are windows to a spectacular view of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where ships cruise in and out. The 625-foot Sea Gull Fishing Pier juts out into the water, punctuated by poles and eager anglers. Heiko, a German tourist, his wife and mother-in-law have stopped to take in the view.
"We have been at this restaurant a few years ago," Heiko explains. "The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is very interesting for us, so we decided to come back and spend a few minutes here."
The restaurant and gift shop are closing at the end of September to allow for construction of an additional tunnel. Crews broke ground on the project earlier this week.
Sean Akbar and his parents from New York, who are also return visitors, hadn't heard. "Aw, well, it's sad. When my mom said we were going, it's exciting and it's fun."
Seven years ago, Chris Savvides and his wife Kellson took over the original restaurant that opened with the bridge and tunnel in 1964. He renovated it, enhanced the menu of famous bay seafood and added a gift shop with merchandise representing Virginia's wine, beer and art scenes. "This has attachment to folks, you know," Savvides says. "I brought my kids across here when it opened. I want to bring my grandkids across here now. There's people whose families were integral in constructing this place. So every time people stop here, it's got an attachment to it. It's not just a stop on a roadside rest area."
Construction of the two-lane southbound tunnel will take five years, with plans to reopen the fishing pier.