Nostalgic Eddie's Drive-In opens early for the season
The carhop diner can still deliver food via rollerskates to vehicle windows in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic
With the future uncertain, one thing that can bring comfort is the past.
That's why Sharyl Uhl decided to open her 1950s-style carhop diner Eddie's Drive-In a few weeks early this season. She thought with the correct precautions in place that it would give people something to do while safely staying in their vehicles.
"I did this as a service to give people somewhere to go to get out of their houses," said Uhl, who has worked at Eddie's in Harrison Township for 15 years. "I know what it’s like to go stir-crazy," she added.
Sometimes a gathering place for classic cars and hot rods, especially on Sundays, Eddie's is known for burgers, fries and shakes delivered by servers on roller skates to trays attached to car windows.
The wheeled servers are still a thing on the weekends, but the trays remain packed away until the virus pandemic is over. Instead, the coney dogs, grilled chicken pitas and banana splits are bagged up to-go. Diners are welcome to stay and eat in their cars, which are spread out with every other parking space coned off.
Uhl said she's taking every safety measure possible, including having a smaller staff with just her and her children Shane and Jamie Uhl, along with another server to help with weekend traffic.
She said since opening in late March business has been "pretty steady." Because of the nature of the drive-in, she doesn't foresee the coronavirus outbreak hurting sales this summer.
"I don't think it's going to affect us one bit. I think our season will be just as good as it always is," said Uhl.
An A & W root beer stand for much of the 20th century (it's still painted orange and white), Eddie's debuted in the late 1980s under the ownership of its founder Ed Cather. His daughter and her husband — Debby and Bruce Meek — eventually took over until they sold it in 2012 to someone who only held onto it for a few years. Uhl said a member of Cather's family still operates Eddie's Drive-In West, a similar burger stand in Coloma, Michigan, near the Lake Michigan shoreline between South Haven and St. Joseph.
A 1999 review of Eddie's from former Detroit News restaurant critic Jane Rayburn praised the hot curly fries and a grilled chicken sandwich, but lamented that it was more about the atmosphere and that "you don't really come to Eddie's for the food."
You could, though, if you're looking for freshly fried treats, malted shakes and no-frills burgers. Eddie's prices are on par with most fast-food joints, maybe even a little less. The most expensive things on the menu — the fried chicken, shrimp, cod or clam baskets which come with fries, or the half-pound hamburger — hover around $7. All kids meals are $3.50 and include drinks.
After nearly a decade of working at the Macomb County Eddie's, Uhl purchased it with her mother, Kristyn Hagood, in 2014.
"I told my mom I don’t care if we make profit, so long as it still balances even and everybody is still happy it’s still there," she said, adding that smart Mom argued with that logic. "I said, no, I want to make sure the nostalgia is there."
With foot-long hot dogs, old-fashioned malts and hot fudge sundaes, the nods to yesteryear are in bloom at Eddie's, even if we're only pining for the freedoms we had last summer.
Eddie's Drive-In, 36111 Jefferson in Harrison Township, is open noon-8 p.m. daily through September. Call (586) 469-2345 or visit eddiesdrivein.com.