Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time stands still at Dutch Drive In

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Carhops Erika Scott (left) and Chloe Watts in front of the landmark Dutch Drive In in The Pas.

JONATHON NAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Carhops Erika Scott (left) and Chloe Watts in front of the landmark Dutch Drive In in The Pas. Photo Store

THE PAS -- Ask Josie Olson what has changed about her business across nearly 60 years and she shrugs her shoulders.

"I don't see much," says the owner of the Dutch Drive In.

Nor does anyone else. Aside from staff fluctuations and occasional building upgrades, time has stood still for this landmark fast food joint along bustling Gordon Avenue in The Pas.

Hungry motorists pulling into the covered, diagonally spaced parking lot are still served by smiling carhops, sometimes known as Dutch Girls, who stroll right to your window.

If you prefer to dine in your car, as many customers still do, simply hang a metal tray neatly on your door. If you would rather get out and stretch your legs, try a picnic table nearby.

The menu, conveniently painted on a large sign, is pure summertime goodness. Among its offerings of cheeseburgers, soft drinks, ice cream, foot-longs and milkshakes, one item stands out.

That would be the Dutch fries, made from hand-peeled potato slices that are cooked and then recooked. Especially good with gravy, Dutch fries are quite simply to The Pas what cheese steaks are to Philadelphia.

"The town had their 100th anniversary last year and people that hadn't been here for years, that's the first thing they did. They stopped in for their fries," says Olson.

Such legendary status can only be forged over decades, of course.

Olson's parents, Joe and Juda Bochsler, opened the Dutch Drive In on July 5, 1957, with the name paying homage to Juda's birthplace of Holland.

The couple had entrepreneurial faith but certainly no assurance of success, though word of their tasty homestyle offerings soon spread like wildfire in this lumber town.

Though it is unimaginable today, for the first two years there were actually no carhops, just window service. Only when A&W came to town with its carhops in 1959 did the Dutch Drive In follow suit.

Adding to the delightfully informal dining experience was the Dutch Drive In's habit of christening burgers after celebrities and even minor political scandals.

When the Fab Four were new and big, for instance, the Beatle Burger was born (no onion ringos to go with it). When Pierre Trudeau denied uttering an expletive in Parliament, out came the Fuddle Duddle Burger.

Over the years, the Dutch Drive In has withstood competition from some of the world's largest fast-food chains and their billion-dollar advertising budgets.

The drive-in thrives today in a crowded market that includes not only A&W, but also McDonald's, Dairy Queen, Burger King, KFC and a burger-vending shopping mall food court.

The drive-in's combination of fresh food and nostalgia keeps customers like Lorna Giroux coming back.

"It reminds me of the good old days," says Giroux as she waits behind the wheel of her van for her order.

But Giroux, operations manager for The Pas-based Missinippi Airways, sees the blue-shirted carhops not as a quaint artifact of yesteryear, but as a still-integral part of this business.

"There's a lot of times when you don't really want to go inside to order," she says, giving as an example a parent with a car full of kids. "You get pretty fast service here, too."

Giroux is unaware of any other functioning drive-in restaurant, complete with carhops, in Manitoba or, for that matter, Saskatchewan. Olson can't name one, either.

A former carhop who took over the business in 1971, Olson has found that as long as the Dutch Drive-In supplies scrumptious food and friendly service, the customers will follow.

With a season running from mid-March until Thanksgiving, Olson, 67, will be looking at another wintertime closure in (sad to say) in a little over six weeks.

As for the Dutch Drive In itself, Olson has no plan to alter a modus operandi that has served her family so well since the days of Gunsmoke and Pat Boone.

"It's OK the way it is," she says.

 

Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 A11

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