Mel's Drive-In

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For the restaurant featured in the TV show Alice, see Mel's Diner.
Mel's Drive-In neon sign, Los Angeles, CA

Mel’s Drive-In is an American restaurant chain founded in 1947 by Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs in San Francisco, California. It is closely associated with the film American Graffiti.

Locations and naming[edit]

There are a number of “Mel’s” located in Northern California that share the same general American Graffiti nostalgia theme and the similarly styled Mel’s logo. These restaurants are called “Original Mels”. Their locations are not listed on the official Mel’s Drive-In website, although an article from the Sacramento Business Journal shows that they are related. A family rift caused the Weisses to part ways and form two chains. The elder Weiss in 1994 sold his company to Larry Spergel, who formed a group of about 50 stockholders that now owns the chain. The Walnut Creek, California, location features a history of the original San Francisco Mel's.[1]

Some Mel’s Drive-In locations are not actually drive-ins, but rather diners. For example, while originally founded in San Francisco, none of the locations in the city currently serve food to patrons’ cars.

Mel's Drive-In in the historic Max Factor Building in Hollywood

Signage and menus on the original Mel’s Diners did not have a possessive apostrophe in the name, as would be expected. However, when Universal Studios recreated the diners at their theme parks in Hollywood, Orlando, Singapore, and Japan, they opted to include the apostrophe in all "Mel's Drive-In" signage, literature, and media.

Protest[edit]

In October 1963, the Mel’s Drive-In chain was picketed and subjected to a sit-in by the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination over the fact that while the restaurant would serve food to African Americans and hired them as cooks, they were not allowed to work "up front" where they could be seen by white customers. More than 100 protesters were arrested. The picketing ended when Harold Dobbs, a San Francisco City Supervisor who had run for Mayor and lost, settled with the protesters and began to allow black workers "up front." [2]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1972, the restaurant was selected as a feature location by George Lucas for his 1973 film American Graffiti. The Mel's used was located at 140 South Van Ness in San Francisco.[3] It serves as the setting for the opening scene of the film as well as the backdrop for the opening credits, accompanied on the soundtrack by Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock".

The prominent play given to the location has been credited with having saved the company from possibly going out of business.[citation needed] Signage and artwork from the Mel's chain is frequently used in marketing for the film.

Universal Studios built a replica of “Mel’s Drive-In” on its lot, pursuant to the restaurant being used in American Graffiti – this amusement attraction also served as a gift shop for years.

Prior to American Graffiti, Mel’s was used as a location in the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are out for a drive and Tracy pulls into Mel’s and orders Oregon Boysenberry ice cream, then has a minor traffic altercation with a black man. The Mel’s was located in the Excelsior district of San Francisco. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy never actually visited the location.

Mel’s restaurants have since been featured in other media, such as Melrose Place (1996, Season 5, episode 1), Doonesbury comics (December 18, 1989), and the book The American Drive-in by Mike Witzel.

References[edit]

External links[edit]