"A taste of the '60s"
By Kevin DeValk, Times Staff Writer
As appearing in the
Finger Lakes Times
Geneva, NY
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
With carhops, old-fashioned root beer, stools and countertops, Mac's Drive-In is a place right out of the '60s.
It's also an anachronism of sorts, harkening back to a time when fast-food restaurants didn't necessarily mean
golden arches and king's crowns.
Drive-ins -- where carhops take orders and deliver food directly to a customer's car -- have virtually disappeared.
But on any given night at Mac's on Routes 5 & 20, carhops continue to take orders and deliver food to cars under
overhangs, serving up a healthy dose of nostalgia along with the burgers and root beers.
The building and sign -- and just about everything else -- are painted red and white, adding to the atmosphere.
Add a jukebox, and this is a place where Richie, Potsie and Fonzie would love to hang out.
"We're the only curb service anyplace," said Gerald MacDougal, who opened the business in 1961 along with his
wife, Catherine, and his brother, Raymond.
Gerald and Catherine say the nostalgia flavor is a major draw to their seasonal business, just west of the village
of Waterloo, which last month opened on weekends for its 40th season; on Friday, it resumed summer hours of
six days a week.
The MacDougals first opened the business at a different location right outside village limits, but moved it down
the road to its current building at 511 Waterloo-Geneva Road in 1968. Raymond MacDougal was a co-owner until
he retired 10 years ago.
For a time in the 1960s, Mac's was part of the Richardson's franchise. The Richardson's name is still displayed on
the sign on top of the building, and Mac's still sells that brand of root beer.
The MacDougals say they have tried to preserve their restaurant's old-style atmosphere, from the design of the
dining room to the fact that the carhops still wear skirts.
Many long-time customers keep coming back, and now many of their children do, too. Some of their customers
drive an hour or more to visit.
In recent years it has also been drawing younger customers, perhaps in part because Seneca County doesn't have
any shopping malls, said Chris Tiffany, who cooks, takes orders and cleans at Mac's. He started working there
when he was in high school and has been there for 10 years now.
There have been some changes -- to the menu, to the hours and certainly, to the prices.
A small root beer only cost a nickel in 1961 and a burger was 15 cents. Today, they cost 65 cents and $1.45,
respectively. A year after opening, the price for root beer went up to a dime, and "we had some customers mad at
us," Gerald said with a laugh.
For many years, Gerald and Raymond juggled the business with teaching careers. Gerald taught math at Geneva
High School in the 1960s and then later at Midlakes High School. He used to get jobs for his high school students
at the drive-in.
Their own two children worked there when they were in school. In fact, his son, Jim, still works there along with
his wife, Kelly.
The MacDougals don't recall many drive-ins like Mac's in the Finger Lakes area, even in the old days. There
were also no chain restaurants in the area until the likes of Carroll's, McDonald's and others were built as the
1970s approached. Gerald MacDougal said the popularity of those new restaurants drove the drive-ins into
extinction.
Mac's managed to survive, the MacDougals say, because they had other sources of income, most notably their
teaching jobs.
"There were some lean years for a while," Catherine said of the 1970s. "Then in the '80s, we were a nostalgic
hit, and we still are."
Over the years, that nostalgia flavor has led to publicity that includes mention in books like John Francis
McCarthy's "The Finger Lakes Revisited." Mac's has also been featured by Rochester and Syracuse newspapers
and television stations.
Workers say customers often tell them Mac's reminds them of Arnold's from "Happy Days," drive-ins they see
in movies or memories from the old days.
"They always ask me, where are my roller skates," said waitress/carhop Trisha Eannetta, who has worked at
Mac's for three seasons.
Kelly MacDougal said customers sometimes tell her they "remember" when carhops at Mac's made their rounds
on skates, and they don't believe her when she says that was never the case.
Tiffany said things haven't changed much since he started working there. Craig Adam, who described his job
duties as "everything," agreed.
"We've always had great workers," he said.
The business typically opens for weekends in the spring and closes for the season right after Labor Day. Starting
around Memorial Day (this year it was last Friday), it is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week.
Catherine MacDougal said they had no idea when they opened the restaurant that they would still be in business
40 years later. They also have no idea how long they will continue.
Gerald said that because of Mac's reputation for nostalgia, business has been improving and doing well for the
past few years.
Worker John Conley said employees are always on their feet, but seldom do they seem to mind.
"We get busy, but we have fun with it. We don't get upset," he said.
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