By Tim Ashley
Locally owned drive-in restaurants can’t be pronounced dead yet, but their popularity pales in comparison to the 1950s and 1960s.
A drive-in restaurant fits hand-in-hand with memories of the 1950s. Car hops, a juke box blaring music, burgers and fries and eating under the open sky.
One such drive-in restaurant, Morgan’s Drive-In, was located just south of Syracuse along SR 13 across from the South Shore Golf Course. Sands Accounting is located in the space now.
Richard Kowallik recalled the Morgan family who owned the restaurant was from Clearwater, Fla. “He was a sign painter by trade,” Kowallik said, and during the winter Mr. Morgan would paint the circus wagons and signs for Ringling Brothers Circus, based in Clearwater during the winter.
Kowallik rode his bicycle from his home at Papakeechie Lake to work at Morgan’s. “I was the fry cook and BBQ chicken ‘prepper,’” he said. He would arrive at 8 a.m. and spend two to three hours grilling the chicken over charcoal and oak in a small, enclosed shack in the corner of the property.
“We had four pits with 4 x 6 foot racks on a swivel so that you could lift a rack of chickens up and turn it over,” he said. “The sauce was a ‘secret’ ingredient of vinegar, water, red pepper and salt,” noting he sprayed the chickens with a fire extinguisher to keep them moist as they cooked. They were then taken into the kitchen, cooled and when ordered lathered with a sauce and placed in a counter top oven to warm up and serve.
Morgan’s was noted for its onion rings and a special “Double O” burger. Kowallik recalled two hamburger patties were used to make the special burger. Chopped onions and green peppers, along with some cheese, were placed on one patty and then the other patty was “molded” on top to seal the edges. “It was always served on a toasted bun,” he said.
He also remembers the huge strawberry pies served at Morgan’s and the Florida Key lime pie with cold butter and graham cracker crust shell, topped with Reddi-whip when served. Condensed milk and freshly squeezed Key limes were also used to make the lime pies.
Dixie Simmons remembers going to work at Morgan’s when she was 13 years old. She worked there for about four summers until graduating in 1955 from high school. “That was my summer job,” she said.
She was mainly a car hop, but would work inside the restaurant when needed. “Since it was a drive-in restaurant, I was able to meet a lot of the summer lake residents,” she said.
Morgan’s had steak burgers, not hamburgers, she noted. And when drinks were served, there was a different twist. “There was always a pretzel attached to the straw,” Simmons said.
Hot dogs and cheeseburgers were served, too, along with frog leg and shrimp dinners in a basket and Morgan’s was open until probably 1 a.m. Saturday evenings, she recalled. “It was a cement block building and there was a juke box to the south side of the building,” Simmons said. “There was a lot of dancing going on.”
Morgan’s was quite popular and some customers walked to it from the nearby South Shore Hotel, still active at the time, she recalled.
Simmons remembers working for 35 cents per hour with tips in the evenings and 45 cents per hour with tips during days. “During a Fourth of July weekend once I made $60 in tips,” she affectionately recalled.
And the Morgans had living quarters above the restaurant, she added.
NOTES: Next I will write about Boydston’s Mill in North Webster. Comments or suggestions? Call me at (574) 658-4111, extension 2306, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.