Dick’s Drive-in is an iconic Spokane business. The drive up parking, the open air counter and the buildings silhouette call back to the googie architecture of a 1960’s California Drive-In. On the sign a panda holds a hamburger that is being pecked at by a neon rooster. The sign reads: Dick’s Hamburgers. Burgers by the Bag Full.
Though it shares a name with a similarly themed drive-in in Seattle, there is no relation. At it’s founding in 1954, the drive-in did not even bear the name Dick’s. Founder Elmer “Abe” Miller originally named the drive-in Kirk’s, a name that the company would continue to operate under, even after the name of the restaurant changed. In the 1960s the restaurant’s name changed for the first time to Panda Self Service Drive-In-Restaurant. The Panda had the same “Burgers by the Bag Full” slogan as Dick’s still has today. In 1967 the name was changed one last time to Dick’s. The iconic panda, however, remains on the neon sign today, calling back to the restaurant’s early life.
Though the drive-in has always been a hotspot for local highschoolers, both in front of and behind the counter, all types flock to the restaurant to get a cheap burger and Coke. On Friday evenings in the summer, the California style open aired dining counter is packed. Miller’s business philosophy was that it was “better to make 2 cents each on a thousand hamburgers than a dollar each on only a few burgers”.
Miller made one attempt in 1985 to expand the business with two other locations in Arizona, which was where he grew up. The locations did manage to open, but did not succeed in the long run, and Dick’s remains a stand alone business.
Dick’s maintains a cult following today by keeping true to its roots. The style has hardly changed since its establishment. Though the rooster was added to the sign some time in the 1970’s, replacing a sign that advertised 21 cent burgers, the building and signage has remained virtually untouched in the last fifty years. What keeps people coming is fast service and cheap food. The hamburgers may be $1.44 today, rather than the 21 cents that they were in 1969, but they are still a deal.