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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Drive Through Craziness

May 4, 2015

I was talking to a friend this morning and he was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t go to a restaurant, order a margarita, and take it home with him. “I swear I won’t drink it in the car,” he said.

I believe that. I know him. He wouldn’t drink a Margarita while driving. He just couldn’t understand why a person can’t go to a restaurant and get a cocktail to-go in Mississippi. Such is the plight of expatriated New Orleanians living in Mississippi.

Actually, it’s not just a Mississippi thing. Most states don’t have an open-carry law. In the long run, drinking alcohol is usually not a good idea outside of a controlled environment.

In Louisiana you can drive through and get a fruity oversized daiquiri made with very cheap rum and drive away in your car. There are drive-through daiquiri stores all over the New Orleans-North Shore area. I think they put a little piece of tape on the straw to keep people from drinking it while they are driving. Of course everyone leaves the tape on the straw until they get home.

When I was a teenager there was a place called The Beer Barn. It was a metal structure with two bays and two drive-through lanes. The walls inside were lined with beer coolers and taps. A guy stood in the middle of the building between the two lanes and took your order when you drove up. One could order a half-gallon of draft beer in a cardboard milk carton and drive away. Or a thirsty traveler could order a case of beer, a six-pack, or a keg and the beer guy would load it in your car and you could drive away. No tape on the straw, just beer, a steering wheel, a V-8 engine, and you. To make things even more mind-boggling, the legal drinking age was 18-years old for beer in those days.

Those were days before Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the thought of which now seems archaic that a group had to organize to tell us not to drink alcohol and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. It was a time before breathalyzers and designated drivers. In those days a police officer would pull a car over, ask the driver if he had been drinking, when the typical reply “two beers” was delivered, the driver was told to drive straight home.

The beer barn might have been the most dangerous business idea in a long line of bad business ideas that deal with alcohol. I’m not against alcohol. We sell it in all of our restaurants, but I am grateful for the awareness that has been created over the last 30 years in dealing with driving intoxicated and over-consumption.

What is truly mind-blowing is that a banker somewhere green-lit The Beer Barn’s business plan. Had you gone to the same banker in 1977 and told him that you had an idea for a drive-through coffee shop that sold $3.00 cups of coffee with various flavorings in them he would have laughed you out of the bank, but only after he gathered a few of the other loan officers in that branch and shared a good laugh with them, “See that guy in my office? He wants to open a drive-through store that only serves coffee. And get this he thinks people will pay $3.00 for a cup of flavored coffee! What an idiot!”

Around the same time the fast-food giant, McDonald’s started serving breakfast and installing drive-through windows. Everyone knows that McDonald’s serves breakfast these days, but back then it was a novel idea to try and get someone to go to a hamburger place before lunch. In the early days McDonald’s had their employees park their cars as close as they could to the restaurant’s entrance. Typically employees are instructed to park as far away as they can. The idea worked. People drove by and noticed a very unusual thing— there were cars parked at McDonald’s in the morning. Something must be going on in there. Breakfast sales skyrocketed.

Drive-through windows were just beginning to catch on in those days. Somehow we all got into a hurry about everything. The first drive-through window in my hometown was a telephone on a pole inside a hard-plastic case behind the Burger Town restaurant. It looked like one of those in-case-of-emergency phones. One drove to the back of the restaurant, picked up the phone, and then a worker inside of the restaurant picked up another pone and took your order. I guess we’ve made progress in that area, but can we really call it progress? Are we better as a society now that we don’t even have to make much of an effort to get food? That’s acolumn for another day.

I think we can all agree, however, that we are better off as a society without a drive-through beer barn, though my friend from New Orleans disagrees wholeheartedly.


Baptist Punch

2 cups                   Cranberry juice Cocktail

2 cups                   Apple Cider

1 cup                      Pineapple juice

1 cup                      Orange juice

1 /4 cup                Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 quarts                Ginger ale

Combine first five ingredients, mix well. Just before serving add ginger ale.


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