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Modesto's classic A&W closed, but these vintage Valley drive-ins are still open for business
Modesto Bee - 11/28/2023
Nov. 24—With the closure of downtown Modesto's historic A&W drive-in this week, the city lost one of only a handful of its remaining Graffiti-era burger joints.
Since its debut in 1957, the restaurant at G and 14th streets had been known for its ice-cold root beers and roller-skating carhops. But longtime owners Johnny and Tammy Matthews were forced to close the site after an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit was filed against them for not having dedicated handicap-accessible parking spaces. The couple, who have owned the business and property since 1996, decided to shut down rather than fight or settle the lawsuit while the site remains for sale.
The business was one of only five remaining drive-ins still operating from the 1950s and 1960s, around the time period that Modesto native son George Lucas's ode to cruising, "American Graffiti," was set. But four still are chugging along more than 60-years later.
A look at where in Modesto you can continue grabbing a burger with a side of nostalgia.
Web's Drive-In, 625 Seventh St.
The oldest still operating drive-in restaurant in Modesto is Web's Drive-In. The Seventh Street downtown location opened in July 1954 while advertising a "A $50,000 hamburger for 19-cents." The location was the restaurant's second in the city, the first was at McHenry and Orangeburg avenues. Over the years, the local business opened a third location, on Yosemite Boulevard. The name was also changed to Web's Big Ben. While the McHenry and Yosemite sites closed long ago, the Seventh Street spot continues to crank out big burgers and shakes as its slogan says: "Modesto's First and Finest Original Self-Service Drive-In."
Fast Eddie's Meal-On-A-Bun (MOAB), 1228 Tully Road
Meal-On-A-Bun (nicknamed MOAB for short) on Tully Road was beaten out by just a few months and instead is the city's second-oldest operating classic drive-in. Opened in November 1954 by founders Sidney and Felicia Cheatham, the restaurant was their third successful dining venture. They started with the popular Walking Chicken restaurant on Paradise Road in the early 1940s, then in the late 1940s opened a drive-in on First and H streets across from Modesto High. The burger joint's famous name came from one of their customers, another Modesto legend, Erv Keller, of Keller's Gift fame. When he was given a burger wrapped in paper, he exclaimed, "Now you got a real meal on a bun." The original MOAB on H and First closed in the 1950s. But the Tully Road location continues to provide a hearty meal on a bun for customers today under the ownership of Robert Wilson (founder of the Roseburg Square restaurant the Divine Swine) and has since added a game room filled with pinball and arcade machines. He took over last year from longtime owner "Fast Eddie" Gibson, whose family had run it since 1965 and remains the spot's namesake.
Scenic Drive-In, 1151 Scenic Drive
A true Modesto original, Scenic Drive-In continues its place in Valley history as the reigning "Home of the Knock Out Burger." Opened in 1956 by Jim and Juanita Fee, the burger shack on Scenic Drive always has had somewhat unexpected next-door-neighbors in the Modesto Pioneer, Citizens and St. Stanislaus Catholic cemeteries. Still, local lore alleges it was a favorite hangout for none other than Lucas himself, during his Downey High School days growing up in Modesto. The Fees owned the popular spot until 2006, when it was sold to Matthew and Ramcena Gregorian. A fire in 2015 closed the stand for six months, but it reopened after and continues to crank out the Knock Out Burger (with avocado, mayo, lettuce, cheese, bacon and chopped raw jalapenos — hence the "knock out" part) and other favorites.
Sno-White Drive In, 1841 Yosemite Boulevard
Sno-White is the region's most prolific vintage drive-in, with multiple locations in Stanislaus County still open. First founded in Stockton around 1950, Sno-White Drive-Ins spread across the Central Valley in their heyday. The first Modesto location, at McHenry and Morris avenues, was opened in 1961 by the Setliff family, which also ran the other sites in the region as its first Valley franchisees. While the original spot is long gone, the city's second Sno-White — opened in March 1964 on Yosemite Boulevard — is still operating. The local brand also has longtime locations still operating in Riverbank and Oakdale. The Setliff family sold to current owner Adel Asumari in 2005, who has continued its traditions and had its iconic neon sign insured for $25,000.
So while A&W may now just be part of the city's past, Modesto's remaining vintage drive-ins are still ready and happy to serve you a juicy hamburger and some local history.
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