Seattle Now & Then: Dick’s Drive In, 1963

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Dick’s on Broadway shown, Carney says, in “1963 or later. (Courtesy, Dick’s Drive In)
NOW: The Broadway Dick’s today. Its menu, largely unchanged over 69 years, boasts fresh (“never frozen”) hamburger meat, hand-cut fries (with a whisper of grease) and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Feb. 16, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Feb. 19, 2023

Coming to our late-night rescue for 69 years: Dick’s Drive-In
By Jean Sherrard

“You don’t know where I’ve been!” the angry guy repeated.

“You don’t know where he’s been!” chimed in his sidekick.

The muzzle of a gun he pointed at me seemed as enormous as a Kalakala ferry porthole on a night crossing.

“I, I don’t know where you’ve been,” I agreed, quaking, my hands raised. What to do? Should I meet his eyes or not? I was fixated on the deadly weapon.

It was the early 1980s. I had just finished performing in an Empty Space Theatre play on Capitol Hill. After a convivial beer or two at the Comet Tavern, I stopped off at Dick’s Drive-In on Broadway. Just as I joined the line to order, a parking-lot scene was coming to a climax.

A young mixed-race couple (black guy, white gal) in a convertible sipped on milkshakes while two white guys in fatigue jackets circled them in a lather, hurling racial epithets.

“C’mon, cut it out,” I called, fortified by Redhook and youth.

That’s when the gun appeared.

The line parted around me like the Red Sea, but someone shouted, “Leave him alone!” Moments later, customers and servers behind the windows took up the refrain: “Leave him alone!”

The gun barrel wavered indecisively, then lowered. The guy and his sidekick hopped in their car and peeled out of the lot. The Dick’s crowd had come to my rescue.

My Deluxe and Fries were particularly tasty that night. In the immortal words of the Bard, all’s well that ends well.

THEN: The first Dick’s Drive-in opened in Wallingford in January 1954. Our automotive informant Bob Carney dates this color photo to “1963 or later,” noting the “pretty fine assortment of wheels” in the parking lot. (Courtesy, Dick’s Drive In)
NOW: Dick’s in Wallingford, mid-winter, just before sunset. Then and now, Dick’s has paid wages and benefits above the industry standard, offering college scholarships to interested staff. (Jean Sherrard)

Richard Spady (1923-2016), eponymous co-founder of Dick’s, whose family still owns the small chain of drive-ins, opened his first restaurant in 1954 in Wallingford. He and his partners adopted simple principles: quality ingredients and quick service. They found almost instant success and stuck with the formula.

Sixty-nine years later, long lines continue well past midnight. The oldest fast-food joint in town is still one of its most popular, repeatedly topping polls for the region’s favorite eatery. Afficionados include songsters Sir Mix-a-Lot and Macklemore. Both immortalized Dick’s in rap.

The late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen also was a customer. So, still, is his partner Bill Gates, who, legend has it, once flamboyantly tried to pay for a cheeseburger with a $1,000 bill. But times have moderated the local billionaire, who now seems to prefer anonymity.

THEN 3: A repeat visitor to the Wallingford Dick’s, Bill Gates orders his usual in 2019: a Deluxe, Fries and a Coke, recalls Paul Rich, who commemorated the moment with a cell-phone photo. (photo: Paul Rich)

Ten years ago, late one weekday evening, Gates and I approached separate windows at the Wallingford Dick’s and coincidentally called out the same order: a Deluxe, Fries and a Coke. He was alone and unassuming, wearing the same sweater he’d worn on “The Daily Show” the night before.


For our narrated 360 degree video featuring this column, please head over in this direction.

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Dick’s Drive In, 1963”

  1. That’s along way to go from Kirkland for Dick’s savory flavors, Bill. There are some things money still can’t buy.

  2. My father was the first bun deliverer for Dick’s. He got the contract for Langendorf Bread Company when the Wallingford Dick’s first opened. I remember the night that he got that contract telling me and my mother how excited he was to have accomplished that sale at the dinner table. He retired in 1980 after a heart attack and died 5 years later, but I will always be proud of him and his career with Langendorf from high school until retirement with 2 years away during WW II in the Army. His name was “Rich” Richards. The Wallingford District was his bread route for many of those years, where he made many good friends with customers. Sharon Richards-Chriest

  3. Mike Garski — You mean the one with the caption

    THEN: The Dick’s on Broadway shown, Carney says, in “1963 or later. (Courtesy, Dick’s Drive In)

    I was going to say it’s a photo of the one on Wallingford but it is definitely not the Broadway Dick’s. Bad Jean Sherrad! Paul would not make this mistake.

    1. You are correct, Karl! Mea culpa! I reversed the captions in the blog! W’ford Dicks and Broadway Dicks are now captioned correctly..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.