Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mel's Drive in S.F. News Article 1955

Back in 1955 the famous Mels Drive-in was a thriving chain and it didn't look like it would ever stop growing.  When a local newspaper ran an article on the famous eatery the co-owner, Mel Weiss (prone to exaggeration) was happy to oblige. Below is said article.  Rather than make you strain your eyes and cause early blindness I've transcribed the article below the picture for ya so you can read it in a decent sized font just because that's the type of guy I am.  Enjoy this little section of history!


Youthful Owners Proud of Success.

By Jack Miller

Two youthful San Franciscans have cooked up a delicious business around the great American institution-the humble hamburger.  They are the owners of Mels Drive-Ins. The restaurant chain originated just seven years ago, now sells between 25,000 and 20,000 hamburgers a day. “And, most of those are with onions.” Mel Weiss, one of the owners declared today.  “OUR MEAT bills run over $300,000 a year. We are the largest users of coffee, ice cream, and bread in Northern California.” He estimates the 300,00 pounds of coffee the drive-in chain uses each week makes about a half-million cups of coffee.  How much mustard do we use? “It must be fantastic.  We buy in in 25 gallon drums” he said, half amused himself.  MELS DRIVE-IN serves about eight million meals a year now, Mel figures. Since the firm’s annual sales volume is running close to four million, that means the average check is 50 cents, he said.  The other half of the corporation is Harold S. Dobbs, attorney and city supervisor. He was 28 and Mel was 29 when the two decided to go into business together on Dec. 23, 1947.  Neither had been in the restaurant game.  Mel then in the export field once got a whiff of the eatery business from his dad’s restaurant in Denver. “Ours was the first drive-in in San Francisco,” Mel exclaimed in an interview in the Van Ness unit-the first and still most profitable one in the chains.

The average carhop is good for $100 a week with tips
 He said the city was “virgin territory” for drive-ins even as late as 1947 because everyone figured the weather, labor situation and high rents were against the success of such venture here.  “We didn’t know any better.” Because the first unit cost about five times what they expected they had to go heavily in debt to finance it, Mel explained.  “But we did tremendous business from the first day we opened.” That’s despite the opening date-only two days before Christmas. And he added, “We did double the business we anticipated that first month and we have kept it up since.” Mel confident the chain will have 50 units in the next 19 years, feels there is still opportunity for the newcomer in the business. “But it takes a lot more money now.”  The average drive-in today requires an investment of $125,000 to $150,000. He contends it would cost about $3000,000 to replace the Van Ness layout.

In addition to the 12 Mels Drive-ins, the chains also branched out into 19-cent hamburger emporiums. Called “Hals,” the firm contemplates opening more of them.  The 19-cent institutions cost anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 each to put up.  “You have to have the right spot so you can build up a volume of business,” he explained.  “When they are good they are good. But when they aren’t you can give ‘em back to the Indians. 
Hal's Hamburgers at Geary and Collins. The restaurant eventually became a Mels Jr.

MELS employs about 600 people. Managers and chefs are on a profit sharing basis. They get 20 percent of the gravy. “If the place makes dough they make it. If it doesn’t they don’t,” the youthful executive said.  The profit sharing plan is the best invention since the discovery of food, he contends.  "It’s the greatest thing in the world.  The company has a surprising little turnover of help. The average carhop is good for $100 a week with tips," he said. “A good one will make $150." He didn’t say what he meant by “good.”

 ~ FINI ~

1 comment:

  1. Excellent info for both American Graffiti and Wolfman Jack lovers alike! Thank you Kip. Great Job!
    -Mark G.