posted on July 24, 2020

Happy National Drive-thru Day!

Drive-thrus combine two of America’s favorite things — cars and fast food. They’re convenient and comfortable and ubiquitous in the US. Today, on National Drive-thru Day, we celebrate how drive-thrus have become part of the fabric of American society, a common stop on road trips, and have been adopted by far more businesses than just burger joints.

National Drive-thru Day was started by Jack in the Box, one of the early pioneers of the drive-thru. Though the unofficial holiday was declared as part of a PR stunt, the drive-thru itself is an organic product of the American road trip and an influential part of automotive history. The first real drive-thru (“drive-through” just isn’t as catchy) opened in 1947 at Red’s Giant Hamburger in Missouri to serve motorists driving the Mother Road, Route 66.

As car culture exploded in the US through the ‘30s and ‘40s, drive-ins became popular for allowing people to enjoy services without unbuckling (if your car was fancy enough for seatbelts). You could eat a meal, watch a movie, even deposit checks from the comfort of your own vehicle. The drive-in represented American ideals in the WWII-era: resourcefulness, speed, efficiency.

The drive-thru expanded on the drive-in’s ease and efficiency, ditching carhops and utensils, instead giving you everything wrapped in paper to eat in the car and throw away later. And as newer vehicles allowed for longer, more comfortable drives, the drive-thru flourished, especially along Route 66 and in California. In-N-Out opened its first stand in 1948 in Southern California, where Jack in the Box also helped popularize the drive-thru in the early ‘50s (McDonald’s did not add drive-thrus until the mid-’70s).

Then came the interstate highway system, and by the early ‘80s the auto industry reflected these American dining and driving habits, with cupholders becoming customary in new vehicles to accommodate on-the-road eating.

Drive-thrus became so popular that they popped up in all sorts of businesses, from the convenient to the zany. There are still charming and wacky drive-thrus across the country, and just about every kind of service is fair game. Here are a few unusual drive-thrus creatively adapted for car-bound visitors.

Unusual drive-thrus

The Donut Hole — La Puente, CA

Image: Wikimedia Commons

At this Southern California donut shop, hungry drivers cruise through a driveway tunnel bookended by giant donuts to get their box of dozen. The Donut Hole has been in continuous operation since 1968, and it is a local tradition for newlyweds to drive through the donuts for good luck and glazed delights.

Dairy Barn — Long Island, NY

Dairy Barn is a regional drive-thru convenience store chain in Long Island famous for its red barn exteriors and little grain silos. Dairy Barn was opened by Swiss immigrants in 1961 and became a fixture in Long Island for decades, but only a handful of the quirky drive-thru markets remain open today.

Little White Chapel Tunnel of Love — Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas’s world-famous Little White Chapel features a 24-hour drive-thru wedding window that claims a celebrity marriage list with the likes of Britney Spears and Frank Sinatra. The drive-thru ceremony takes a mere 15 minutes, and you can rent their pink Cadillac convertible to make the big day that much more special.

Westerville Public Library — Westerville, OH

The Westerville Public Library is an award-winning library that has run a drive-up window since 1999. Readers can avoid stepping inside the library itself by reserving books online and picking them up at the window.

Kocian Law Group — Manchester, CT

A Connecticut law firm opened their drive-through lane for legal services a few years ago in a former Kenny Rogers Roasters. The firm doesn’t offer legal advice through the window, but it’s a convenient way for clients to quickly pick up or drop off documents. Hopefully you’ll never have to visit this one.

Steven is an avid car guy and content maker at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.