A History of Dick's Drive-In
In the early 1950s, a burger, shake and fries were already an American classic. But people who hungered for this classic meal usually had to sit down and wait. America was on the move, and almost everyone was using a car to get from place to place. But for most people, there simply wasn’t time to stop and eat at a roadside diner. Besides, it was too expensive. What was needed was a place where you could park easily, get good food in a hurry, and pay a lot less.
What was needed was Dick’s, but try selling the idea to a local banker in the summer of 1953. When 29-year-old Dick Spady and his partners went to the local banks seeking a loan to build their first restaurant, the bankers politely showed them the door. But Dick and his partners never gave up, and on the morning of January 28, 1954, the first Dick’s Drive-In opened for business on N.E. 45th Street in the Wallingford District of Seattle.
Seattle residents were delighted! Dick’s food was fresh, the service was speedy and the bill affordable. Never mind that the place closed a few days later under one of the city’s worst blizzards. When the snow melted, Dick’s new customers came back for more. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
What else was happening in 1954? While Seattleites devoured Dick’s burgers and fries, Bannister shattered the four-minute mile, Salk perfected the polio vaccine, and Hemmingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And as a young Elvis sang his first great hits, Dick’s Drive-In became the place in Seattle to meet your friends, show off Mom and Dad’s new car or just trade pocket change for a quick bite to eat.
Setting the standard for the best fast food in Seattle was precisely the intent of the three partners who started Dick’s. “Our goal,” says Dick Spady, the last surviving partner, “was simply to serve fresh, high-quality food at low prices with instant service.”
Unlike most of Dick’s competitors, however, Dick’s early success didn’t convince the partners to turn the business into another national franchise. “My partners and I were family men,” says Spady, “not traveling types. We were in this for the long haul, that’s for sure, but not as a franchise. We wanted to keep our growth within the Seattle area.”
And that’s exactly what they did. The Broadway Dick’s opened in 1955, followed by the Holman Road Dick’s in 1960, the Lake City Dick’s in 1963, and the Queen Anne Dick’s in 1974. And everyone is still serving up Seattle’s best burgers, fresh-cut fries, and hand-whipped shakes.
Keeping the menu simple has always been part of the Dick’s philosophy. While other fast-food restaurants added fish sandwiches, onion rings, tacos, turnovers, and chicken, Dick’s stayed with the American classics: burgers, fries, and shakes. In fact, the menu didn’t change for twenty years. Then in 1971, a mild revolution occurred as two new burgers were added to the menu: the Dick’s Special with lettuce, mayonnaise, and chopped pickles, and the Dick’s Deluxe, a beefed-up, quarter-pound Special with cheese. At about the same time, Dick’s dropped orange soda and added Diet Coke. But that’s been just about it.
As life in America grew increasingly more complicated, dining at Dick’s actually became easier. Separate lines for ordering burgers, fries, and ice cream were abolished in favor of a new, simplified system where you could order anything you wanted from any window.
Unlike its franchised competitors, Dick’s rarely advertised. Dick’s didn’t need to. Satisfied customers in search of great burgers, homemade fries, hand-whipped shakes, and old-fashioned hot fudge sundaes, just kept coming back day after day, weekend after weekend, year after year. Almost 70 years of satisfied customers and good memories have kept all nine restaurants hopping.
When Dick’s opened in Seattle in 1954, it was clearly in a class by itself. Since then, most of the national chains have built fast food restaurants all over the city, but when the people of Seattle hunger for burgers, fries, and shakes, Dick’s is still their first choice. Why? Because after almost 70 years, Dick’s still serves up the best food, at the best price, in the shortest time. Whether the year is 1954, 1994, 2014 or beyond, that is still a formula for success and a formula that should keep Dick’s food in Seattle’s hearts, minds, and mouths for decades to come.