Burger joint, gathering place, historical landmark – Spartanburg’s Beacon Drive-in fits the bill on every level. This local treasure has been serving up American grill favorites since Thanksgiving Day 1946 – that’s a lot of cheeseburgers, fries and sweet tea. To put that into perspective, the kitchen goes through approximately 3 tons of potatoes, 3 tons of onions and 4 tons of meat (seafood, beef, chicken), per week. Oh, and that’s not to mention the 3,000 pounds of sugar used – again, weekly – to sweeten the more than 60,000 gallons of tea sold in the eatery and at retail markets across the US.
Once a classic drive-in, The Beacon was a hot spot for teens and youth during the ‘50s, ‘60s and into the early ‘70s. Eventually, the focus veered away from cruise-ins and the public was invited to come inside, though curbside service continues to be optional. Customers didn’t seem to mind, cheerfully lining up for food and a seat in the dining room.
Ordering is a quirky undertaking here, accomplished through a process in which diners give their selections to a “caller,” who then yells the order to the kitchen. The Beacon’s most famous caller, the late JC Strobel, held the position for 54 years and caught the attention of national news outlets. His influence is still alive and well, though. When you hear, “Call it out!” it’s time to give your order and move on down the line to pick up your food.
This establishment is also distinguished for its continuous popularity, even as it underwent changes over the decades. In 1999, a dairy bar was added for ice cream lovers – a natural outgrowth of a business designed to satisfy appetites. Political candidates draw crowds at community rallies held in the restaurant’s parking lot. The summertime Beacon Beach Blast is an annual tradition now, featuring beach music, shagging and loads of family fun. In a nod to its lighthearted past, the restaurant regularly hosts classic car cruise-ins, its jam-packed parking lot delivering a much-anticipated dose of nostalgia. Poodle skirts and leather jackets welcome.
Once a Monday through Saturday operation, the Beacon now serves seven days a week; early birds can snag a hearty breakfast every day but Sunday. During the holidays, save yourself some time and trouble by picking up a fried, baked or roasted turkey, trimmings optional. Order those birds early as they fly out fast.
But it’s the mainstays that keep this place hopping. Despite changing hands following the retirement of the original owner, the late John White, in 1998, the current owners have largely stayed true to the eatery’s roots, with a menu chock-full of burgers, dogs, chicken, shrimp and other customer favorites. Dig in to a Beacon tradition with the Chili-Cheese Aplenty – a two-fisted, napkin-soaker served beneath a heap of both fries and homemade onion rings. That said, you can get nearly anything buried in similar, greasy-good fashion just by uttering the magic word: “Aplenty.”
It’s just one more reason Beacon Drive-in’s heyday is happening every day.