Drive-In Restaurants Enjoy Renaissance with Families, Cruisers

By: Karen Talaski | September 9, 2020

Photo Courtesy of Daly Drive In.

Cruising around can lead to an empty tank as well as an empty stomach – and that is where drive-in restaurants serve not only to satisfy any food craving but also as a way to enjoy a meal inside your car with family and friends. 

Drive-in restaurants are the kind of eatery where you pull up to a specific parking spot, roll down your window and order your meal from a waitstaff who comes up to your vehicle. Everyone eats while, ideally, a cool breeze comes through the car, watching the cars come and go as you enjoy a meal in a historically socially distanced way. 

The atmosphere at a traditional Metro Detroit drive-in restaurant is that of nostalgia. There likely will be a neon sign somewhere. The parking lot may have an overhang that gives your car some shade while you eat. The parking spaces are large, knowing that some of the vehicles pulling in looked more like boats than sedans back in the day. 

When you see the drive-in restaurant’s traditional menu, you’ll understand why these joints have stood the test of time. The menus tend to favor things fried, covered in chili or smothered with American cheese. The most popular dishes typically are sandwiches, hamburgers, bags of freshly fried potatoes and anything else you can hold with your hands. 

Scott Grace is the second-generation owner of Daly Drive In located in Livonia, the last location of this famous Metro Detroit restaurant chain left open. Today, the solo location is on Plymouth Road in Livonia and it is still serving everyone’s local favorites, Grace said. 

Daly’s started with Bill Ihlenfeldt, who opened his first drive-in restaurant in1948. Located on what was then Jim Daly Road, it was called Bill’s Drive In. Shortly thereafter, he renamed it Daly Drive In, after its street location. Over the decades, Bill’s family opened other locations around Metro Detroit that became as popular as the original.

The Livonia location was opened by Bud and Doris Grace in March of 1959. It is now company owned and operated. Scott, who was born a month after the opening, jokes that his mother didn’t want to 

The coronavirus has slowed business by about 20 percent, Grace said, but loyal customers young and old are still coming around for their comfort-food favorites. Grandparents are bringing their grandkids, he added, mostly so they can enjoy the outdoor eating as well as the food.

The biggest sellers lately are the fried mushrooms, cheese sticks and shakes, Grace said. But he knows as the weather cools the soups and chilis will pick up again. The biggest sellers of all are the hamburgers with the special Daly sauce as well as the Chee Chee, a sandwich made on a steamed bun with two slices of American cheese and coney sauce.

“We’ve been fortunate with how much the pandemic has hurt other restaurants that we had curb service. We never had to close,” Grace said. “All of our indoor sales just transferred outside under the canopy.”

Here are a few other drive-in restaurants worth the drive to try around Southeast Michigan. 

Eddie’s Drive-In

It may look like a 1950s drive-in restaurant, but Eddie’s in Harrison Township came about in 1987. That is when the original owner, Eddie, decided to open his version of a 1950s drive-in restaurant. There are roller-skating carhops, old-fashioned food and lots of space to hang out while enjoying the fresh food. 

Grand Diner

This Novi mainstay has had its ups and downs only to stay on the upswing when it re-opened in September 2015. Today, the Grand Diner is family owned and operated by two brothers, with their wives and children. They truly know their stuff when it comes to great traditional recipes and customer service as they come from a background of restaurant ownership of more than 15 years. 

Jon’s Country Burgers

This classic drive-in restaurant requires a longer drive to get to, but Jon’s Country Burgers in Mt. Pleasant has been pleasing people’s palates since 1957. All of its sandwiches are freshly made, offering big portions that can be ordered in a basket that includes either French fries or onion rings as well as coleslaw or apple sauce.There is good reason why this is a landmark location for all drive-in foodies. 

A&W

Everyone knows if they need a frosty mug of root beer that all they have to do is drive to Berkley to check out this All-American Drive-In. They’ve been serving up the root beer, hot dogs and burgers at this location since 1956, giving generations of kids a chance to experience a full meal from the back seat of their cars, a real treat before there were to-go meals.