|Director, George Lucas standing between a '58 Impala & a '66 Citroen across the street from Mels.|
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE MELS
Although Texas was fertile ground for the very first drive-in restaurant, the state of California is where the concept first really took off. Warm climate made eating in one's car convenient, consequently most drive-ins in California first appeared in the southern portion of the state. However, in 1947 when the post-World War II economy was booming, Mel Weiss along with San Francisco lawyer and politician, Harold Dobbs opened the first drive-in restaurant in San Francisco. The plans for the building were created and completed by Bay Area architect, Mario L. Gaidano on August 15th, 1947. The actual building of the drive-in may have been completed by Harold Dobb's father who was a professional carpenter. The grand opening of the enormous restaurant took place two days before Christmas on December 23, 1947.
|Mel Weiss (far right) & unidentified others stand proudly at the entrance of the new restaurant.|
In a 1991 interview with the Modesto Bee, Mel Weiss recalled that when the carhop eatery first opened they only expected modest success. However, much to their surprise the restaurant was a hit from the start. "We did $120,000 the first month," he recalled. If Mr. Weiss recollections are correct, the drive-in’s first months gross almost paid for the cost of building the entire restaurant. The cost of building the super drive-in was approximately $135,000.
| As many as 14 girl carhops prompted fast service and many repeat customers.|
1948 FIRE MAP
|The 1948 fire map above shows that Mels drive-in (highlighted area) was surrounded by a used car dealership, service station, welding shop and other businesses with streets that received plenty of traffic. The property included a huge parking lot to accomidate many customers.|
MORE OF A GOOD THING
By 1954 the Mels franchise was pulling in about $4 million annually. It was estimated by Weiss that they were cooking up 15-20,000 hamburgers a day. But, the menu consisted of many more items than just the Melburger. Along with the proverbial beverages, desserts and fountain specials, the Chicken Pot Pie for .85 cents was a popular item. In fact, the choices of American-style food were almost endless. Depending on the individual restaurant location, one could order Half Fried Spring Chicken (like mother used to make), Roast Young Tom Turkey, Fried Jumbo Prawns, a Chef's Salad Bowl, Thick Top Sirloin Steak & Eggs with potatoes or sandwiches such as the Mels' Pore Boy, (with a full pound of choice ground beef on a quarter loaf of French bread served with salad).
|The second Mels on Mission near; Geneva in San Francisco.|
|A typical billboard advertising 3 Mels locations in San Francisco. circa 1950s|
At one point Mels also ran several bowling alleys and restaurant complexes including a franchise of Mels Jr. restaurants. Mels also branched off into a second chain called KINGS. The Kings restaurants were located on the Peninsula south of San Francisco.
|Mels @ 16th & E. Santa Clara, San Jose, CA.|
|Mels Bowl @ 2580 El Camino, Redwood City, CA. (Opened:1960. Closed: 2011|
During the 1950s Mels' was a thriving franchise and was an example of capitalism at its best however, as the end of the decade had begun to give way to the turbulent 1960s, the reputation of Mels Drive-In was not to go unscathed. To find out more click on the Mels menu below to go to part 2.
- Bayer, Patricia. Art Deco Architecture. London: Thomas and Hudson, Ltd., 1992.
- Burger Chain Delivers Mels on Wheels Cruising Modesto. The Modesto Bee. Oct. 5, 1991.
- California Living Magazine, November 20, 1983.
- Freeman, Jo. From Freedom Now! to Free Speech: How the 1963-64 Bay Area Civil Rights demonstrations Paved the Way to Campus Protest. Website. Retrieved 8/13/2012. http://www.jofreeman.com/sixtiesprotest/baycivil.htm
- Freeman, Jo. At Berkeley in the Sixties: Education of an Activist, 1961-1965. Indiana University Press
- Hurley, Andrew. Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
- Mels Drive-in Web Page. Retrieved 8/12/2012. www.melsdrivein.com.
- Obituaries. San Francisco Chronicle. August 18, 1994. H. Dobbs, Began Famed Drive-in Eatery. Sun Sentinel.com Retrieved 1/27/2013. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-08-18/news/9408170431_1_mel-s-drive-in-restaurant-san-diego-mel-weiss
- Online Archive of California; Specialty Real Estate Web Page. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2012. www.specialtyrealestate.com/issues/nov98/aclassickeepsonrockin.htm