Diner to get new life as Y Drive In
HUNTSVILLE – A rusty sign that reads Rock’s Drive In stands in front of what used to be a thriving diner locals call the “Y.” The vacant two-story diner is run down, with rotting thresholds and flooring, but residents ask regularly when the old diner will reopen, said Darrell Frederick, who bought the building in October.
“I want to bring the place back,” Frederick said.
Frederick plans to use the locals’ nickname – which refers to the Y-shaped intersection of U.S. 412 and Arkansas 72 – when he opens the new Y Drive In this spring, he said.
Nationwide, more people are taking their chances and opening restaurants as the economy recovers, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm in Chicago. But in Arkansas, not a lot of people leave stable jobs to start their own restaurants, said Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association.
That’s just what Frederick, 36, plans to do when he leaves his longtime job with Packers Sanitation Service Inc. in Huntsville to run the diner. The single father said he plans to give up a good income of about $1,600 each week for something he is passionate about – running his family’s former restaurant.
The restaurant first opened in 1965. Frederick’s parents, Dixie and Troy Frederick, bought the diner in 1972 and ran it as Troy’s and Dixie’s until they retired and sold the business in 2006, Frederick said.
The new owners struggled, then closed Rock’s Drive In. A lender took over the property last year, courthouse records show.
Frederick said the diner sat empty for several years. Courthouse records show Dixie Frederick bought the building for $36,000 in July and then the title passed to her son.
The county appraised the building at $77,450 this year, down from $117,950 in May 2008, courthouse records show.
Nationwide, the restaurant industry has churned, with about 4,000 restaurants a year closing since the recession started, Tristano said. Many of those reopened under different owners, he said.
There are about 70 food service establishments in Madison County, Arkansas Health Department spokesman Ann Russell wrote in an e-mail. Restaurants have opened and closed in the county over the past few years, but the number has remained consistent, she said.
Arkansas has roughly 13,500 food-service establishments, about the same as previous years, she said.
The state does not track the number of family-owned diners, McNulty said. Tristano estimated there are only about 5,000 drive-in diners in the U.S. that are family run.
Frederick said he knows he has his work cut out for him. He expects renovation costs to run about $150,000. The diner is in bad enough shape that Frederick calls it “the beast.” On an overcast December afternoon, Frederick opened the diner’s doors to let in light. The cinder-block building hasn’t had running water or electricity for years. Dusty, commercial-grade kitchen equipment is stored with arcade machines that Frederick bought for the second-floor room. He has two jukeboxes he bought in Tulsa and plans to install.
While standing in what will be the game room, Frederick talked about dinner menus that will include fried chicken and hamburgers. He is considering whether to reopen the spots where cars used to park at the drive-in. He said he wants to add a play area with balls for children to bounce in.
He envisions his 7-year-old daughter spending time in the restaurant after school, and Huntsville teenagers making the place a hangout.
“It will be a queen when I’m done,” Frederick said while looking over the old diner. “It will go from beast to beauty.”