Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mister S -- the forgotten 1960s hamburger chain

What was the name of that drive-in restaurant near our house in Pleasure Ridge Park, KY, in the 1960s, I'd wondered for years.  A decade or two would pass, and it was back in my head, nagging me again. I recall one particular steamy summer day in 1968 when my friend Neal and I made a rare and dangerous venture down Dixie Highway on our bicycles to buy a record at Dixie Manor Shopping Center. On the way back we stopped at this mystery spot for lunch. Something compelled us to play Tiny Tim's hit, Tiptoe Through the Tulips on the restaurant jukebox. Yes, it had a jukebox -- a notable distinction from any of the other hamburger chains. As the record played and we sat there laughing at our outrageous choice, a policeman walked in. We were sure he would at very least give us a disapproving look. but he ignored us and Tiny Tim completely. His mind was on a 15 cent hamburger.  As I recall their food was acceptable, along the lines of Burger Chef, which is why for a while I decided it probably was Burger Chef.  Except it wasn't.  The local Burger Chef was a few miles north near the Watterson Expressway.

Then one day it occurred to me that my old friend Becky Royalty lived only a few hundred feet away from the place all through her childhood.  Alas, she too had forgotten -- but her brother Troy hadn't.  At last I had the answer.  It was Mister S, he said.  I thought when I heard the name I would slap my knee and say, "Yes, of course! Now I recall!" But that's not what happened.  "Mister S? Is he sure?" I asked.  Then Dave Conover saw my post on Facebook and found this clipping of a Mister S from a Lorain, Ohio newspaper. It was only when I saw the S at the top of the sign did a rather bent old penny drop.  The caption states Lorain's own Mister S was apparently quite special -- it was the pilot plant of a brand new chain. Logic suggests that Mister S may have been based in Ohio.

Here's an ad printed in the classifieds of The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) from March 9, 1965. I found similar ads in newspapers in Ohio and Michigan.
Here's an article from the Akron Beacon Journal, April 23, 1965 and an accompanying advertisement.

 Note the interesting perspective.
As you can see, the Mister S building not only still exists, it even retains the three spheres at the peak of the roof.

I also found this drive-in restaurant forum from over a decade ago and this post from a blog about Lorain County.

Here's an article from The Times-Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) from February 11, 1968 about the local Mister S opening up on 1115 Newark Road (the article has the address wrong).
 An advertisement appeared shortly thereafter on February 18, 1968.
And another from June 20, 1970.
Though greatly modified, the Zanesville Mister S building still exists.

It's very possible the Dixie Highway location was only the one in Louisville -- and possibly in all of Kentucky if the chain sputtered out as quickly as I suspect it did.  Sometime around 1970 it became a locally owned restaurant called Poynter's Pups, but that didn't last long either.  Much to my surprise, and though extensively modified, the building itself exists today. But if you look closely, you can still see portions of its mid-century modern steel frame.  The massive signage structure, however, has disappeared.

That is not the case with the sign at the Lorain, Ohio location.  Though the top two thirds has been removed, the original base has clearly remained intact.
Another conversion in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In this case, the top of the sign was also cut back, but the original shape of the Mister S lower signage remains intact. 

Below, a caption from flickr states this is Jim Heddle's photo of a Mister S near Huron Parkway, Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Dan Brady said...

Hi Scott,
Great post! I enjoyed seeing the photos of the other former Mister S restaurants. It’s good to see that the chain is well-remembered outside of Lorain, Ohio where it all started.

There are a few more photos of the Lorain store if you check out this link:

Anonymous said...

I grew up with Mister S and my parents would take me there after church every Sunday.
There burgers were just as good as McDonalds if not better.
There iconic "S" sign would have a three different color "S" and two would spin making a kaleidoscope effect. I had to leave Lorain because of the recession and was shocked to come home and find it had closed. Casey's Drive In was the other favorite. It's all like a dream until I seen this web page. I was privileged to be around in the 60s and 70s to experience these places. Wish I could go back in time and experience it again. Thanks.

Scott Santoro said...

I've found a few ads so you can now see the prices.

Mark Thompson said...

I loved Mr. S as a kid, especially their fried chicken. There was one a few miles from my house in Parma Ohio and another one I remember in North Olmsted. The Parma location has been a donut shop ever since Mr. S closed and the building still looks the same.