|"The original big Mac's"
By Linda S. Burnett, The Ontario County Connection
Appeared the week of July 6, 2003
It's safe to say you're not going to find a place like this anywhere else in these parts. Mac's Drive-In Restaurant
on Route 5 & 20 in Waterloo is like slipping into a wonderful time warp, where the food is real and terrific, the
service is fast and friendly, and the prices... well, does the word "WOW" describe it? You're not going to believe
"We've been here in business for 43 seasons," says Gerald MacDougal, the owner of Mac's Drive-In, "and we've
owned it the whole time. My brother Raymond and I opened it in 1961. Raymond was teaching in Waterloo at that
time, and I had just gotten out of the army. We got talking about how great it would be to be in business together
and started reminiscing about our younger days. We grew up near Bath, and we always frequented the Starlight
Drive-In and root beer stand. Rarely did we ever pass the place without stopping, so we decided opening a
restaurant like that would be just the ticket. We built the whole place ourselves in stages over the years, and we
never took out a loan to do it. We still marvel at that, because neither of us had any money to speak of, and for
the first couple of years, we really didn't make any, either."
In order to make ends meet those first two years, Raymond went back to teaching at Marcus Whitman, and
Gerald started teaching in Phelps. Since the restaurant was seasonal, it worked well with their teaching schedule,
and it gave them a large pool of part-time help to draw from as well.
"Lots of teachers have worked here over the years," Gerald, better known as "Mac," states, "and many of them
have stayed with us for 10-15 seasons. We tend to keep our help a long time, because I think people just have fun
here. It's a very unique place."
Unique it is, and it's also one of the busiest summer dining spots in the Finger Lakes. Raymond retired from the
business in 1990, but Gerald and his wife Cathy, who handles the payroll and paperwork for the restaurant, still
report to work every day and admit they keep doing it because they really love the business. Their son, Jim, also
works there, along with about 30 others, many of them teachers, who work weekends only from the 1st of April
through Memorial Day and then weekly from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There's always plenty for
everyone to do.
"We have the world's biggest kitchen," Mac says proudly, "and it's a very efficient one, if I do say so myself. We
have 14 deep fryers and on the weekends, they're all going full speed ahead. One of the things that make this
place so unique is the way we service our customers. When a customer walks in, one of the staff will take the
order, and then that staff person will take care of that customer from start to finish. They won't wait on anyone
else until that customer is taken care of. They will prepare the order in the kitchen, cooking the food and dishing
up all the extras, pour the drinks, deliver it to the customer, ring them up, take the money, everything. The
order doesn't get passed to anyone else at all. The only place in here where that doesn't happen is in the back
with the carhops. There's no way the carhops can cook an order and still wait on all the cars, as busy as it gets out
Yes, that's right, we said carhops! Carhops are alive and well at Mac's Drive-In! With space for a total of 64 cars,
people can park their vehicles in the covered carport areas at the back of the restaurant and some very cheerful
and friendly young ladies, some dressed in MacDougal plaid, will come to your car window and take your order.
When your order is ready, they'll bring it back to your car with a pleasant smile, just like they did in the '50s.
Everything from Mac's menu is available at the carhop except Pabst draft beer. If a customer wants that, they
have to walk around to the front counter and order it themselves. They also can't serve their famous root beer in
the 16 oz. frosted glass mugs at the carhop because the trays just get too heavy. Carhop customers have to settle
for paper cups, but the fabulous RICHardson Root Beer is the same. You can get hots, burgers, BBQ beef, subs,
meals in a basket, pizza, fish... you name it! It's all good.
"We come in here all the time," says Sarah Wilson, a regular customer from Geneva. "The food is so delicious,
and you just can't get a root beer like this anywhere else that I know of. They bring it to you in a tall, frosted
mug, and it's the best I've ever tasted. The service and the place are just fantastic!"
There's plenty that makes this place so fantastic, and it has put them on the cover of classic car magazines on
several different occasions. Ambiance, of course, is at the top of the list. The place has a character all its own, and
it will appeal to every one of your senses. You'll feel like a part of an era that is now gone by, from the
mouth-watering aroma that fills the air, to the open-air seating, to the sounds of spontaneous laughter and '50s
Another part of what makes it so fantastic is the quality behind everything they serve. The french fries, for
instance, are sliced every day from fresh new potatoes, and Mac does a lot of that himself. On a regular day, they
go through about 200 pounds of potatoes. Fridays, however, they cut and serve 400 pounds of french fries
minimum. They easily go through 30 fifty-pound bags of potatoes every week, and that's a lot of prep work, but
they wouldn't do it any other way.
"We never freeze the french fries, either," Mac says. "We cut them and cook them all in the same day, so
they're really fresh when you get them. Everything is fresh here, except the fish, which comes to us frozen.
There's no way to get haddock otherwise. I tell people all the time, why would anyone want to stop at McDonald's
when you can stop at MacDougal's? We're every bit as fast, and the food is much better, both in quality, quantity
Mac uses local distributors whenever he can, and many of his vendors have been with him since the beginning. He
even gets his carryout containers from a local company. He works hard to keep the quality high and the price low,
and he seems to succeed at that very nicely. The highest priced item on the menu is the chicken dinner, one of
Mac's house specialties. You get 1/2 a chicken, which lies on a bed of the best tasting french fries you've ever
had, a dish of homemade cabbage salad, and a couple of freshly made honey buns, all for the whopping price of
"The price has gone up a couple times," Mac admits. "I think it went up a nickel once and a dime a couple years
ago, but we try not to raise it if we don't have to. Prices from our distributors have gone up a little this year, so
the next time we print the menus, I may have to raise it a nickel or so here and there, but that's all. Half of the
beauty of this place is that it is affordable. Families don't go broke eating here."
You're also going to like the people here, and that's a guarantee. The place is filled with friendly, smiling faces,
and it is absolutely clear that everyone is there because they like their job, and they like their boss, too!
"I'm starting my 13th season here this year," says Chris Tiffany, whose "real" job is working for the Sheriff's
Department. "I come in part time whenever I have days off, and I really enjoy the place. Mac was also my
teacher the last two years of high school, and besides being a great boss, he was an excellent teacher, too. You
couldn't ask for better people to work for, and the character of the place is just an added bonus. I love it."
So, the next time you want to take the family out for a quick dinner with an ice cream chaser, take a ride down 5
& 20 to Waterloo and check out Mac's Drive-In. Have a tall frosted glass of Richardson's Root Beer with an
absolutely terrific meal, get a delicious soft ice cream from the walk-up window, and ENJOY!!! Make your meal
an honest-to-goodness "happy meal" experience for the whole family!
Mac's Drive-In is located at 1166 Waterloo-Geneva Road (Route 5 and 20) in Waterloo. They are open from
Memorial Day through Labor Day, Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 am - 10:00 pm and are closed on
Mondays. For more information, give them a call at 315-539-3064.