A Brief History of Washington Staple Dick's Drive-in

Dick's Drive-In on Broadway, 1955
Dick's Drive-In on Broadway, 1955 | © Seattle Municipal Archives / Flickr
Photo of Samantha Ladwig
16 March 2018

Dick’s Drive-in has been a Seattle fast food staple since its opening in 1954. Founders Dick Spade, H. Warren Ghormley, and Dr. B. O. A. Thomas set up shop in the Wallingford neighborhood before quickly expanding to Capitol Hill, Crown Hill, and Lake City.

The Emerald City institution remains a local and tourist hotspot because, according to former longtime Seattle resident Matthew Wojciechowski: “They’re reliable. They have a stripped down, basic menu and they stick to it.”

He added: “I lived across the street from the Wallingford Dick’s and it was this beacon of homegrown, greasy comfort.”

Hamburgers Instant Service | © Matthew Rutledge / Flickr

The Dick’s Drive-in menu, which features burgers, fries, and milkshakes, remains essentially untouched since its creation. It took the owners 17 years to mix things up and add the beloved Dick’s Deluxe burger, which includes lettuce, mayonnaise, and pickles. Spade came up with the Dick’s Drive-in model after paying McDonald’s $50 to let him work at one of their California locations, as McDonald’s hadn’t yet expanded outside of the Golden State. While swapping money for burgers, Spade took note of what the Golden Arches sold, how the company functioned, and the customer response.

Spade’s work paid off. According to a 2012 Esquire survey that polled over 200,000 people, Dick’s Drive-in was voted the most life-changing burger joint—outranking well-known favorites like In-and-Out Burger, Shake Shack, and Five Guys. California resident Charles Rogers said Dick’s was the first place he visited when he came to Seattle back in 2012.

“I knew it from the Sir Mix-a-Lot song, ‘Posse on Broadway’,” Rogers explains, “So of course I went to the one on Broadway. I ate there two or three times even though I was only in Seattle for less than a week.”

Dick's, Seattle, Queen Anne | © Bjørn Giesenbauer / Flickr

“I love it,” Pacific Northwest native Marie Lenoue says. “It’s a hometown favorite. Their small menu is awesome and the burgers and shakes are amazing, whether you’re drunk or not.”

On a business related note, Lenoue explains: “They treat their employees well. The service is lightning fast, and to top it all off it’s cheap.” With a minimum wage of $16 an hour, free health insurance, childcare assistance, and a $25,000 scholarship opportunity, Lenoue is right, Dick’s Drive-in provides better benefits than its surrounding fast food competitors.

After 64 years, Dick’s Drive-in maintains rank as one of Seattle’s go-to food venues for locals and tourists alike. So much so that Dick’s burgers have found their way into more serious, formal events.

Dick's Drive-In on Broadway, 1955 | © Seattle Municipal Archives / Flickr

Seattleite Stephanie Ryder tells her Dick’s Drive-in story.

“I was at a friend’s wedding and it was getting pretty late into the night, when suddenly Dick’s cheeseburgers start being passed around,” she said.

“Everyone was so excited. It was definitely one of my favorite wedding memories. I might even copy that in the future.”

As of September 2017, Dick’s Drive-in will open its second location outside of the Emerald City. Excluding the Bellevue, Washington location that opened in 1965 and closed in 1974, the first successful outer city establishment was in Edmonds. The second one, set for a Fall 2018 opening, will be in Kent.

The burger joint may not be expanding at the rate that most fast food chains grow, but that’s intentional. According to Dick’s, they’re a family-owned company disinterested in franchising. Just another aspect that charms customers and keeps them coming back.

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