Making the change from drive-in to drive-through

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2001

Second of two parts&lt!—-&t;.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Second of two parts

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Drive-in dining became a very popular activity for motorists and their families in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and even into the 1980s. In that era people could stay in their cars to eat and drink and be served by carhops; the equivalent of outdoor waitresses.

In Albert Lea two establishments on South Broadway, the A & W and Frostop (or Frost Top), became an important part of this trend. However, there was one regional factor which restricted the enjoyment of these places: the weather. Drive-ins were open for about half the year.

One of the solutions to the seasonal problem with drive-ins was to provide a place for indoor year-around dining. A local contractor named Archie Welfald and his wife Anna solved this problem in 1958 with the building of the Patty-O Drive-In Cafe.

This two-story structure was built next to Margaretha Avenue between Tenth Street and S.E. Broadway (Highway 65). The drive-in portion was on the ground floor and an apartment was located on the second floor. An enclosed patio addition gave the option of indoor dining. An added service for the place was take-out orders.

The Patty-O continued to operate until 1965. Then the property was acquired for the expansion of the Gibson/Pamida store. The large building with its patio was moved about three miles south of the city on County Road 18 and is now a residence. A portion of the parking lot for HealthReach now occupies the former Patty-O location.

The Wefalds later operated Archie’s Drive-In at Geneva for a few years in the late 1960s.

Another local restaurant owner who offered both indoor and in-car dining was DeLoss L. Osburn. Prior to 1959, he has a business named Dee’s Grill on Stevens Road (later designated as a street on city maps). This place, with a name based on his nickname, was open all year and catered especially to the after-bar-closing and after-the-dance crowd on Friday and Saturday nights.

Osburn decided that a separate drive-in at the south end of his block-long lot would result in even more business during the warmer months of the year. Just by coincidence, Dee’s Drive-In was located just off East Main Street (Highways 16 and 65).

The last listing for Dee’s Grill and Drive-In, according to the city directory, was 1973. Trumble’s and Western Rentals are now situated in this general location.

Also, in 1959, Albert E. Jensen opened the Midway Dairy Bar, 609 E. Main St. The Midway name then being used for a super service station and garage at the corner of South Newton Avenue and East William Street. On the same block was the Midway Motor Co. and Midway Machine Shop in a separate building on Elizabeth Avenue.

About two blocks away, where East Clark Street joins East Main Street, was the Midway Sub Service Station and Cafe. And on the next corner (Katherine Avenue) was the Midway Dairy Bar. Thus, for part of the year people had their choice of indoor dining or eating in the cars on this block.

The Midway Dairy Bar site was taken over by McDonald’s which opened for business on Sept. 30, 1972. This brought to the city still another concept of food and beverage service which eventually led to the gradual decline of drive-in dining.

City directory listings show an increase in local drive-ins during the the late 1960s. The Quik Stop, 526 E. Main St., opened for business in 1966. During the following year, Dog N Suds, 2010 E, Main St., and Kristys Drive Inn, 820 S. Broadway Ave., started operations.

The golden age for local drive-ins was likely in the early 1970s. In 1971 the city directory shows that the Arctic Circle Drive-In, 319 W. Main St., opening. However, this place across from Morin Park, was only listed in the city directory for two years. In later years the building with the long canopy in front was used for the Velvet Touch Massage Parlor, a chiropractor’s office, and is now the site of Cars ‘N Credit. This building is one of two places within Albert Lea which serve as a reminder of the drive-in era.

Several innovations brought changes to the drive-ins. In some cities where the drive-ins had paved parking lots, the carhops used rollers skates to move around and serve the customers in their vehicles. One innovation in several Albert Lea locations was to have intercom speakers in the parking places. The customers could call in their orders and save the carhops at least one trip.

Still another innovation was to expand the menus. For example, Kristys advertised it was the home of Little Red Hen Country Chicken, &uot; Golly, it’s Good.&uot; (Kristys ceased operations about 1973. This site is now part of the north portion of the Buy-N-Save parking lot.)

As the fast food places such as McDonald’s and Hardees with their indoor dining facilities and drive-through lanes became more popular, the local drive-ins gradually ceased operations.