In the era of “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days,” drive-in restaurants became a common stop along the American landscape, catering to travelers who were taking to the road in droves. Today, only a handful of these historic eateries are still in operation and welcoming nostalgic foodies as well as a new generation hungry for a taste of something classic.
A&W got its start in 1919 as a walk-up root beer stand in Lodi, California, and by 1925 owners Roy Allen and Frank Wright had established America’s first franchise restaurant chain. By the 1960s, there were over 2,000 locations serving the foamy soda in frosty mugs, including the Lansing drive-in where owner Dan Mulder invented the bacon cheeseburger in 1963. Among the oldest A&Ws operating in Michigan are Grand Ledge (1951), Southgate (1952), Manistee (1955), Berkley and Lincoln Park (both 1956). awrestaurants.com
Upon entering the Upper Peninsula from the Mackinac Bridge, travelers along US-2 are quick to find the legendary Clyde’s Drive- In—but may not know that the original Clyde’s was built further north in Sault Ste. Marie in 1949 by Clyde VanDusen. The restaurant remains family owned and operated by Clyde’s great-nephew, Bob Spencer, and the famous three-quarter-pound “Big C Burger” is still the most popular menu item. The Manistique location is open year- round. They don’t have websites, but you can find them on Facebook. clydesdriveinsoo, clydes-drive-in-saint-ignace and clydesdriveinmanistique.
Dog n Suds
The first Dog n Suds opened in 1953 in Champaign, Illinois and during its heyday, there were about 650 around the country. Two of the original drive-ins still exist in Michigan, both owned by David Hosticka. He took over the Montague location from his parents in the 1990s (just its third owner), and in 2006 he purchased and restored the one in Norton Shores, near Muskegon. Both are open from April through October, when car-hops deliver mouth-watering burgers, chili dogs, fries, shakes and of course, frosty mugs of root beer. dog-n-suds.com
Year-round visitors to Traverse City enjoy traditional fare like hamburgers, grilled cheese, footlong hot dogs, Reubens, charbroiled chicken sandwiches and so much more (including hand-dipped milkshakes) at Don’s Drive-in, the hot pink diner on US- 31. Eat in your car (in season) or slip into a red and white booth, and you’ll feel like you stepped back into 1958, the year Don’s opened. donsdriveinmi.com
Just like in the old days, the car hops at Eddie’s Drive-In are on roller skates. Opened as an A&W in 1943, Eddie revived the low-slung structure in Metro Detroit’s Harrison Township in 1987. The seasonal diner became a magnet for classic car clubs and cruisers who dig the Big Ed’s Burger topped with a secret sauce, creamy malts and 10 specialty sundaes. eddiesdrivein.com
Hot Dog Stand
At the Grand Blanc Hot Dog Stand they’ve owned since 1964, the Moore family keeps the menu simple: locally made Koegel dogs done six ways, chips or popcorn, draft root beer (and other cold beverages, but who needs ’em). Get the dog topped with Grandma Aileen Moore’s Original Red Sauce, which you can take home by the bottle. originalredsauce.com
Photos (left to right): Don’s Drive-In, Clyde’s Drive-In (by Kath Usitalo), Dog N Suds
This article originally appeared in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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