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.

Since that moment of earthshattering discovery, I've found very little about Mister S on the internet, such as this post from a drive-in restaurant forum from over a decade ago and this post from a blog about Lorain County. Perhaps this post will lead to even more Mister S discovery. 

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.