Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 8, 2004, pg. 4
The years following World War II brought in a new era for the way of life in America. One phenomenon that was sweeping the nation was the drive-in. Instead of walking inside of a restaurant to eat, “hop” waitresses would come to your car and put your meal on a tray that fastened to the top of your window. During the 1950s several drive-ins came to the Albion area in the years prior to the opening of Interstate-94. Most were located along busy U.S-12, which today is known as Michigan Avenue and Austin Avenue.
One of Albion’s 20th century entrepreneurs was Mike Nester (1910-1999) who owned Nester Metal Products at 968 Austin Avenue. It was a heating and cooling business. He also owned the Starlite Motel and Restaurant at 1630 E. Michigan Avenue. When Mike and his wife Geraldine (Eckmyre) had originally purchased the Austin Avenue property, they had so much “extra” land, that they thought it would be great to open up a small restaurant there. So Mike erected a small restaurant next door at 964 Austin which operated during the warm weather months. Orders were taken from the window only and customers ate their food carry-out or in their cars.
The restaurant was called the Tik Tok Drive-In, and first appears in the 1951 Albion City Directory. The name had its origin one night when the Nesters were discussing what to call the restaurant while driving back from Jackson during a rainstorm. The windshield wipers were going back and forth, and Mike exclaimed in timing with the wipers, “Tik Tok, Tik Tok.” Thus the Tik Tok Drive-In.
The menu was simple: hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, potato chips, popcorn, and soft drinks. A used popcorn machine was purchased from Louis Cascaraelli downtown. Corn was popped inside the glass frame, and when it was done a “little man” in the machine would run around and the popcorn would come out. Mike and Geraldine initially operated the restaurant, which included advance preparation of the food such as slicing French fries.
Because his furnace business next door as well as his other enterprises took up a lot of time, Geraldine (who now lives in retirement in Florida) recalls that Mike hired Gordon & Marguerite Thwaites to manage the drive-in. In the 1953 and 1955 city directories Clyde Allen is listed as the manager. The Nesters subsequently sold the Tik Tok to Richard “Dick” Rausch (1913-1985), who is listed as the owner beginning with the 1957 directory.
With the opening of Interstate-94 in July, 1960, local traffic patterns were significantly changed. No longer were hundreds of automobiles traveling along Austin Avenue in front of the restaurant each day, and there was no exit constructed on 27 Mile Road (although it was planned) which would have brought traffic into town from that route. Gradually the former U.S-12-fed businesses along Austin Avenue were closed. In order to attract a more local clientele, Dick expanded the restaurant to include an inside “sit-down” portion, and increased the menu selection as well. He continued to operate the Tik Tok until 1974 at which time it was closed. The building subsequently became a welding supply business.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present an early 1950s photo of the Tik Tok Drive-In, courtesy of Ken Waito. The sign states “Tik Tok, Root Beer, Hamburgers, Take Home a Quart of Gem’s Ice Cream.” The ice cream came from the Gem Dairy which was locate behind Washington Gardner High School on the corner of Berrien and Mulberry Sts. How many of our readers remember the Tik Tok Drive-In? Yours truly is looking for other photographs of Albion businesses from the 1950s that we can feature here in this column. Give me a call if you’ve got something you think might be good to feature in this column.
The Tik Tok Drive-In, circa 1950s
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic