SUNNYSIDE A trip down to the drive-in to grab a burger has been a local tradition for nearly 60 years, thanks in part to Bob Hall.
Yes, the tireless 78-year-of Bob Hall of Bob Hall Financial. He was an opportunistic, aggressive entrepreneur as a young man. Bob’s Drive-In, at 108 Yakima Valley Highway is named after Hall, although he wasn’t the first person to own the place.
“The restaurant was built several years before I bought it,” Hall said. “It was originally an ice cream place, but it didn’t work out and sat vacant for several years.”
Along came Burt Wells, who decided to sell burgers, as well as ice cream. He asked Hall, who was in college, to work for him part time. Hall quickly became his go-to guy.
“I’d run the place by myself at night,” Hall said. “When I wasn’t there, he’d need two girls to run it. He liked having me there because he had to pay less in salary.”
Wells, who was scraping by in the restaurant business by playing guitar on the side, decided to go back to school to become a teacher. He’d owned the restaurant for only a couple of years.
“His wife didn’t like him being out so late playing for crowds at the Grange,” Hall said. “So he offered to sell me the place. He said I could easily run it myself. He had confidence in me.”
Wells asked for $500 down and sold it on a contract in 1960. Hall had to borrow $300 from his father to make the down payment, but he didn’t have the debt for long.
“I was able to pay him back in the first month,” Hall said. “I was very successful at it, way more successful than Wells.”
Hall was 20 years old, just out of college, and willing to work seven days a week at the newly renamed Bob’s Drive-in. He was able to triple the profits of the restaurant in the first year and had no problems paying off the contract to Wells.
He did well enough that he launched the Three Bees Drive-in on Lincoln Avenue and another restaurant in Goldendale.
“We’d sell 10-cent ice cream,” he said. “Burgers were 15 cents and the big ones were 25 cents. They cost a bit more now.”
Hall said he also made an effort to bring in families. When he started, 90 percent of his business was made up of youth making single orders.
“A young person would come in and order a hamburger and a coke,” he said. “A family would come in and order maybe five burgers, milkshakes, and sides. It would be five or six times the single order.”
To encourage families to come back, he would give families a quart of ice cream on their way out the door.
“They’d say, ‘we didn’t order this’ and the server would say, ‘We know, it’s on Bob.’” Hall said with laughter. “A quart of ice cream cost me 25 or 30 cents. It was good advertising.”
The drive-in had gotten a bad reputation for fights before between kids from rival communities. When Hall took over, he made it a point to stop that practice.
“I had young people coming from Yakima to Prosser to fight,” he said. “I wouldn’t let them fight on my property. I made them go across the street where the county sheriff’s office was. That put an end to it.”
Hall ran the restaurants for four years, selling them in 1964. He’d gotten married and his wife Judy helped out, but he wanted to go back to school and get a degree in law. He sold the restaurants to different people and had enough money to attend school for 10 years without needing to work.
He got sidetracked after learning about selling life insurance, and soon had a new career that kept him busy until retirement. But he remembers his first restaurant with fondness.
“It was a great business,” he said. “I loved it.”
Hall said he feels the youth of today don’t take advantage of possible opportunities.
“They think you have to have a lot of money to go into business,” he said. “But I didn’t have much. I took on a monthly contract. The opportunities are there if they’re willing to work.”
Hall said he still loves Bob’s Drive-in, and goes to eat there regularly. He said the building hasn’t changed much from back when he owned it.
“I added the wing on,” he said. “It’s basically the same color as it was in 1960. It’s a real piece of Sunnyside history, and it’s still going strong.”