Sure, there was a new Taco Bell and the original Sonic on Lindsey, and even a 7-Eleven on McGee. The McDonalds at Berry and Lindsey and Jonesy’s BBQ nearly to 24th Avenue SW were too much of a hike. King’s Food Host took too long.

The gold standard that sent the teenagers running north a few blocks was Sooner Dairy Lunch.

The ready-made burgers, butterscotch shakes, fries and soft drinks covered most of a teen’s required food groups. They had carhops for the adults and a westside window for the kids.

West kids got a walk, a decent lunch and made it back in time for afternoon classes. Sooner Dairy Lunch was to West kids what the Cub’s Den and Levi and Eddie’s cafe were to cross-town Central students.

The West kids were like family and helped the McHughes operation cash flow for decades. That ended when West became a mid-high and then Alcott Middle School with a closed lunch campus.

But the loyal customers remained with them.

The iconic Norman drive-in on Main Street will serve its final burger and tots to loyal customers in the next few days.

The place has been packed for several weeks after word of the impending closure started getting out. We should have seen it coming.

When the ice cream machine failed many months ago, they opted not to replace it. Even offers to crowdfund a new one were turned down.

They survived and outlasted many competitors on Main. When they opened in 1954, there wasn’t much of Norman west of Berry Road. The interstate wasn’t completed through here until 1959.

In the early days, burgers were 25 cents and a hot dog was 20 cents. Cheeseburgers and BBQ beef and tuna fish sandwiches were 35 cents.

The family kept it Old School until the end. No credit or debit cards. Cash or checks.

Some customers just had to pull up and they knew what to throw on the grill. For me, it was an educated cheeseburger (mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato), tater tots and a medium ice tea. If I was feeling rather thin, it’d be a double cheeseburger.

“We just figured out that if we don’t step down now, the good Lord would decide for us,” said Randy McHughes, who has operated the drive-in with his father, James, his brother Jim, Jim’s wife Melanie, and others.

Randy was born the year the drive-in was started by his family, and has never worked anywhere else. Jim has been there most of the time, too. Melanie, at least since 1972, with time off for childbirth.

The family’s retirement and the store’s closing is bittersweet. They have had dozens of loyal customers stop by and tell them their Sooner Dairy stories. Some were carhops. Others started coming while at West and continued through adulthood.

They’ll miss the regular customers, but not the daily grind. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, former customers return to place their regular orders.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s a lot of people that have stopped in to thank us,” Melanie said. “It’s really nice.”

Says Jim, “It’s going to be a big difference for all of us.”

Count me in that number, too.

 

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