LOGAN — Hot dog chili bubbled away in a warming pan and bacon strips sizzled on a nearby griddle as Ruby Caldwell and Crystal Rogers plopped freshly battered chicken breasts and onion rings into hot oil.
Caldwell and Rogers were readying the daily offerings at Morrison’s Drive Inn restaurant in Logan for the Monday lunch rush. Cars and trucks began piling into the parking lot at precisely 11 a.m. — opening time — and “curb girl” Kandi Damron got to work taking orders from hungry drivers and running slips back to the kitchen.
Half a century after the drive-in craze hit the fast lane, most of those restaurants have gone out of business. Not so in Logan, population 1,779 as of the 2010 census. Curbside service is still booming in the tiny coalfield town, which boasts three drive-ins that are all owned by the same family.
“I’d say it’s mainly nostalgia,” said Jay Mayhorn, who manages Morrison’s, Janet’s Park & Eat, and Parkway Drive-In for his father, Robert. “People can enjoy going back in time, I guess you’d say.”
The three restaurants offer similar fare, but each has its own distinct recipes, he said. Together, they employ more than 45 people, who range in age from their teens to their 70s. Morrison’s does the most business of the three by far.
John Morrison opened the Stollings Avenue eatery in 1947. Jay Mayhorn’s grandfather, Leonard Refeitt, started working there the next year and would eventually become the owner. When he died, ownership passed to Robert Mayhorn.
Although a few menu items have been added here and there, little has changed at Morrison’s over the past 68 years. Jay Mayhorn said that’s what keeps the customers coming back again and again.
“My dad always says it’s not fast food, it’s good food fast,” he said. “We even have a couple that got engaged here and came back on their 40th anniversary.”
Among the signature items are the cheeseburgers. They start as a grilled cheese sandwich on thick slices of white bread which are then pulled apart so the burger patty can be added into the middle of the melted cheese.
Elizabeth Adkins, 80, retired just last month from Morrison’s after 48 years of serving customers. She said cheeseburgers have always been one of the most popular menu items.
Adkins, who still pops into the restaurant every now and then to check on things, said she started at Morrison’s over the Easter weekend in 1969.
“That’s the busiest weekend,” she said. “It was a stressful job, but it was a good job. They were always good to me. I made a good living here.”
Adkins’ granddaughter was especially sad when she retired because grandma always gave her some extra fried skin bits with her fried chicken.
“I told her they’d still fix it that way for her, and they do,” she said.
Hamburgers and fried chicken have broad appeal, but the most popular menu item by far is the famous Morrison’s hot dog.
Prepared the traditional West Virginia way — in a steamed bun with chili sauce, slaw, fresh chopped onion and mustard — it recently won the top award from the famous West Virginia Hot Dog Blog. A sign out front Monday proudly proclaimed the victory.
Jay Mayhorn said hot dogs have always been the top seller at Morrison’s.
“On National Hot Dog Day (July 23) we sold them for 75 cents apiece,” he said. “We sold 2,000 hot dogs in about 10 hours, and all we did was put up a sign and announce it on Facebook.”
He said the staff handled the influx of business very well.
“They hated me that day though,” he said with a laugh.
Tom Kent, 51, a Logan native who now lives in Abingdon, Va., is a lifelong Morrison’s fan. He said his favorites are the chicken liver dinners, hot dogs and cheeseburgers.
“It’s always been wonderful,” he said. “We’ve been coming here my whole life. You can’t beat ’em.”
Morrison’s is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Parkway’s hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Janet’s is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.
Reach writer Billy Wolfe at email@example.com or 304-348-4830.