Eating off campus

Alums remember restaurants of another era



“And it was burgers and fries and cherry pies in a world we used to know. Changes come and go, we’ve had our share I know.”

Those lines from the Charley Pride song “Burgers, Fries and Cherry Pies” certainly sum up the dining scene for collegians in the era before McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. There were a plethora of mom-and-pop, small-volume diners, a handful of drive-ins, and a couple restaurants testing the staying power of that new Italian dish — pizza.

The most popular spots? On campus, it would be The Jungle, the hangout in Pugsley Student Union, where students took pride in making themselves part of the establishment by carving their names or initials into the wooden booths and tables.

Off campus, for “everybody that’s grown up in Brookings,” Nick’s Hamburgers was THE spot, John Schulz ’69 says. “It’s an institution.” Those new to Brookings also quickly came to love the “buy ’em by the bag” inexpensive hamburgers.

The popularity of the deep-fat fried biscuit of a burger is attested to in a 2007 book written about Nick’s by Chuck Cecil. It still serves the sandwiches at Fifth and Main. The Jungle has been gone for 40 years, but has been remembered through numerous articles, including one in State magazine in 2003.

This article primarily looks at popular spots that are no more. Space limits the profile.

Plenty of choices

Bob Burns ’64 explains why the community could support so many restaurants when there were only 4,000 students and 10,500 Brookings residents in the early ’60s.

“During my first three years you could live in residence halls and not have to eat at the student cafeteria. That created a great demand for those (small, near-campus) eating places. The food service (on campus) was not what kids today enjoy.

“There was limited selection and it was not particularly good. I only ate on campus my first quarter,” Burns recalls.

Another mark of Burns’ generation is that students didn’t come to campus with cars, “so you usually ate close in,” he says.

State Grill

Consequently, “I probably ate there (the State Grill) more than any place else because it was cheap and filling. A big order of fries and hamburger steak” was the popular order, says Burns, adding that he would go “alone or with one other person because (the building) was small.”

State Grill operated in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, in what was that era’s version of a strip mall one-half block south of the Campanile on the east side of Medary Avenue.

The Cottage Store, a neighborhood grocery store with a small café, was the two-story structure between the single-story barbershop on the north end and blue and white State Grill on the south end. The grill was known for having the largest pancakes in town.

The site is now the parking lot for Pugsley Hall.

Dale and Vi’s Pizza

Dale and Violet Thomas operated the State Grill until those buildings were torn down in the late 1960s. Then they moved to a one-story, brick building directly west across the street, the current location of the SDSU Foundation, and started Dale and Vi’s Pizza, the second pizza business in Brookings.

It quickly became a favorite of the students. “I played cribbage there most of my freshman year,” notes Lee Kratochvil ’73.

“College (business) was really big for them,” says George Ross, who later operated a competitor, Pizza Pub. He notes that Dale and Vi’s Pizza was the pioneer in pizza delivery in Brookings.

Dick Fergen, who grew up in Brookings and in 2004 purchased Nick’s Hamburgers, says Dale and Vi’s was the first in town to serve Hawaiian pizza. In addition to pineapple and bacon, Dale and Vi added shrimp, Kratochvil recalls.

The orders ended in the early ’70s when the Thomases retired to five acres in rural Volga and the building became Campus Pharmacy.

Pizza King

Gus Kakonis operated “the first real successful pizza place in town,” says Fergen. “He (Kakonis) had the Brookings Café (423 Main Ave.) in the 1940s and ’50s. He sold it, and went down and opened Pizza King in (what was) a barber shop.”

Pizza King, 308 Main Ave., continues to operate at that location, although under different ownership.

“Pizza was just coming into vogue when I was in high school,” says Burns, a 1960 graduate of Flandreau High School. “We’d drive to Brookings to get pizza” at Pizza King.

Schulz ’69, who grew up just a few houses west of campus, recalls another attraction at Kakonis’ place. “He had a couple cute daughters that worked down there.”

But the pizza also rated high. The New York-style pizza was “similar to what it is now — thin, burnt on the bottom. Pepperoni and mushrooms is the one I liked,” Schultz says. The place was “really popular” in the late ’50s, he adds.

Tom Yseth became acquainted with Pizza King while he operated Horatio’s, a tremendous popular downtown 3.2 beer watering hole.

Yseth says that was in an era when the restaurant owner had a relationship with his customers. “While you were waiting for your pizza, he (Kakonis) came out and talked to you. You don’t get that at the chain restaurants.”

When the pizza did come out, it was “fairly greasy,” Fergen says. “We loved it.”

Mike’s Eat Shoppe

Another Greek entrepreneur, Mike Efthimiou, operated Mike’s Eat Shoppe in what is now Razor’s Edge Barber Shop, 505 Main Ave. Fergen testifies, “By far, the greatest eating place Brookings has ever had. Not a very big menu, but great pork chops.”

Yseth says, “When I moved here in ’71, that was the classic diner.”

Chuck Cecil, a local historian and a former college administrator, adds, “It was THE place in the 1950s. It seated only about 25 so you had to stand in line outside in the cold to await your turn. It was right next to the theater so guys who had dates took their date for dinner at Mike’s.”

Quick Lunch

Harry Forsyth, who went to State from 1947 to 1951, says he often frequented the Quick Lunch, where Burlage & Peterson Realty, 317 Fourth St., is now.

“There were no tables, just stools. Hamburger steak and good French fries for a buck,” Forsyth says. “Cheap and good food and a lot of it. Not the most healthy food in the world, but everybody survived.” Quick Lunch didn’t. It closed in the mid-1950s.

Rainbow Cafe

Another popular eatery of that era was the Rainbow Café, 407 Main Ave., now a vacant space south of Rude’s Furniture.

Owner Bruce Cook served the traditional American cuisine from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. He later sold it to Lee Wong and the business became Wong’s Rainbow Café with American and Chinese food. It was extensively remodeled and renamed Mac’s in the 1980s, but a fire destroyed the structure soon after it opened and the lot remains vacant.

Ione’s, Sandy’s White Spot

Fire also destroyed Ione’s Café, 423 Main Ave. High winds worked against firefighters on a cold Sunday night March 3, 1985. A gift shop and optometric shop also were lost in the blaze, which took the life of a man who lived above Ione’s. Neighboring Nick’s was spared.

A building that has survived the march of time and developers is the structure that housed Sandy’s White Spot on West Sixth.

Now vacant, the small stucco edifice was most recently an oriental restaurant. Forrest Frie first opened the White Spot in 1948 in a location about 100 yards west of the current building just before the curve where Sixth Street becomes Highway 14 Bypass.

The White Spot, known for its late business, continued until the 1970s, when it became a pet-grooming parlor.

George’s Night Hawk Cafe

Another spot known for late-night crowds was George’s Night Hawk Café, located north of the flower shop in what is now the Wells Fargo parking lot. The short order restaurant served “lunch, dinner and breakfast for those leaving the beer halls,” Fergen says.

“It was a big place to go after Horatio’s,” says Schultz, who worked at Horatio’s during his college years.

Country Kitchen

A late-night favorite in more recent years was Country Kitchen, 2221 Sixth St., the current location of Advanced Auto Parts. Started in 1973 by Lance Park, the franchise “used to do thousand dollar hours. Thousand- dollar hours in the ’70s was a lot of food,” Ross says.

Pizza Pub

Ross discovered Pizza Pub when it opened on Hobo weekend 1967. “I thought it was a great place and got a job there my second semester,” he says. By 1969, he was manager. In 1970, he purchased the business in partnership with his dad, James, an agronomy professor.

He operated the Fifth Street business, now home to Wooden Legs Brewery, until 1988.

The original owners hired a group of college students to come in on Wednesday nights to lead a sing-along. “There was a honky-tonk piano player, two guys on banjos and two flapper girls out singing. It was very unique and the musicians were very good,” he says.

“When we started, it was mostly college students,” but he worked toward developing a 12-month customer base, Ross says.

Corral Drive-In

When drive-ins entered the restaurant market, their season was even shorter. The Corral Drive-In, at Sixth Street and 17th Avenue, was the first drive-in in Brookings when it opened in the late 1940s. The season was mid-May to the end of October.

In the late 1950s, owner Gene Larson added indoor seating, former cook Rich Jennings says.

Known for its Bum Burger, cooks would put two slices into a sesame seed bun. In one slit Jennings inserted a hamburger while a cheeseburger went in the other. Each section of the double-decker was seasoned with a homemade sauce of lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and sandwich spread, best as Jennings recalls nearly 60 years later.

“It was very good. It went over big,” says Jennings, who wished he had kept the sauce recipe.

Dairy Queen

A competitor opened up on the other end of Sixth Street in 1950. Dairy Queen never did have indoor seating, but stayed open until almost Thanksgiving, recalls Charleen Forsyth, who worked there with in-laws Harry M. and Doris Forsyth from 1960 to 1968.

The elder Forsyth bought the drive-in after owning a successful DQ in Redfield, where Charleen’s husband Harry L. was raised.

“That’s not a business you want to take if you didn’t want to work hard,” says Harry L. “It was open until midnight, 1 a.m. on weekends, and he (his father) was down there cleaning the machines at 7 a.m.” Harry L., then an SDSU coach, would work there after supper.

Donna (Bozied) Burns worked there in 1960-61. “We had lines; two windows open and lines of people.”
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The memory remains

But as Charley Pride used to sing, “Changes come and go.”

Yseth, a part-time hospitality instructor at SDSU, says, “By the ’80s, college kids had really gone over to the chain concept. They’d watched a lot of television. Television teaches you chains — McDonald’s, Pizza Hut.

Students were pretty acclimated by television.

“If they just wanted to get something to eat, I think that’s where they went. The small independent diner started to disappear by the ’80s.”

But, as Schultz says about Mike’s Eat Shop, a small downtown café, “I can still almost smell that in my memory; a great aroma.”

Dave Graves

Editor’s note: In the smorgasbord of restaurants to have served Brookings and its college students since World War II, many have been passed by in this dining piece; quite possibly your favorite. To share a memory of dining in Brookings, post your comments at sdstateconnect.org.

4 Comments

  1. Gregory Culling at

    I loved the Pizza Hut. Jane Waldowski and Jack Novak and the gang were great musicians and we spent a lot of time and $$$$ on their generous pitchers!

  2. Bard Kallestad at

    SDSU 65-67 I remember late night meals at the Night-Hawk cafe, where they ladled chili out of big coffee urns. Some used to refer to it as the greasy-spoon, but they served a great burger and bowl of chili for a post-midnight meal.

    Also, there was a great spot out on East 6th that served hot dogs. They had a couple dozen kinds of condiments and you could mix and match as many as you liked, and were charged accordingly. It was a real treat to go out, and get a couple of hot-dogs with everything from Kraut to chili on them.

    Gus the Greek served a fantastic pizza. He put the meat on raw and let it cook while the rest of the pizza baked. It turned out really greasy, but you could pour off as much grease as you liked, into the huge orange ash trays at each table. He also served beer to wash it down with.

    Dale and Vi’s was practically on campus, and served a milder, less greasy pizza than Gus did. They advertised extensively on KAGY, the campus radio station, and delivered to the dorms. Nice people.

    Brookings was definitely a town that had many excellent places to feed those extra four thousand hungry boys and girls attending college at SDSU. Lots of fond memories.

  3. I worked at Wong’s Rainbow Cafe. I would like to
    hear from Johnny, Connie, and Shirley.

  4. John Roberts at

    And no one mentions the Purple Cow drive-in or the A&W?

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