On the south side of Routes US 20 and NY 5, one-half mile west of the village of Waterloo, lies a family-owned
hamburger stand. Many people have described this eating establishment as "a slice of Americana", "a bit of
nostalgia", or "a sure sign summer is here". No wonder Mac's Drive-In has survived so long. Mac's offers that
special touch no fast-food restaurant can bring -- superb, pleasant, courteous service and the atmosphere that takes
you back to the times of fast cars, double-dates on Friday night and taking your dad's Ford Fairlane to the drive-in
for a burger and fries served by a quick and friendly carhop.
Mac's Drive-In was born June 18, 1961 at 460 Waterloo-Geneva Road in an old gas station building next to
Hartman's and across from the old Ye Olde Wood Shoppe Village (the structure was torn down in 1997). Two
brothers, Gerald and Raymond MacDougal, along with their wives Cathy and Vera, respectively, built a counter out
front and a carhop ramp out back. They offered the first curb service in the area. Mac's was one of the first "fast
food" restaurants in the Waterloo, Geneva and Seneca Falls area. The more familiar fast food establishments of
today didn't arrive for another ten years.
The first two years were a great success, so great that seven years later they built a larger building one-quarter
mile down the road to house the "new" Mac's at 511 (now 1166) Waterloo-Geneva Road. Instead of building a new
counter and eat-in area at the new site, at the end of the 1967 season, they moved the entire front end of the old
stand and brought it to the new stand via flatbed truck, where it was attached there. With Gerald, Ray and a
carpenter, Mac's Drive-In opened on schedule at the new site in 1968.
Carhop service was not going to end at the new site. The ramp at the old building was disassembled piece by piece
and reassembled at the new site as the main ramp on the west side. A second ramp was constructed on the east
side. Room for sixteen cars is available on each 85-foot ramp. Friday and Saturday nights one can find both carhop
ramps full or nearly full -- truly an amazing sight!
The Mac's Drive-In of today consists of three parts. The section closest to Waterloo-Geneva Road is the eat-in area,
with a seating capacity of nearly 70. All food preparation is done in the center of the horseshoe-shaped counter
(remember, this is the same counter original to the first stand). A unique feature of the front section is the
glass-paned doors. During better weather, the doors can be slid away to give the restaurant an "open air" effect.
The second section consists of a full kitchen, where orders for the carhops and an occasional order from the front
are prepared. On the west side of the structure is a full-service ice cream window, offering sundaes, "the best in
town" milkshakes and delicious banana splits. The third section is the carhop ramps out back.
Two favorites among customers are the fresh salads and golden fried chicken. The potato and cabbage salads are
homemade, with the "secret recipe" by Lucy MacDougal, Raymond and Gerald's late mother. The chicken for the
popular Chicken in a Basket is cooked and breaded daily, and deep-fried to perfection for the customer.
Many of the menu items are still from 1961. Hamburgers, french fries, pizza, "in-a-basket" dinners and root beer
and milkshakes are still popular favorites. Only eight items have been added since the first opening day. A new
menu board was created in 1992 to accommodate new items and menu changes, replacing the original 32-year-old
sign. But, much of Mac's hasn't changed.
Businesses are not exempt from their little mishaps, and Mac's is no exception. Five significant setbacks can be
-- Opening day of 1968, the first day in the new location, business was so overwhelming, a transformer on a
nearby telephone pole exploded. After a 20-minute delay, business was back to normal.
-- A windstorm in April 1979 destroyed eight glass doors on the northwest corner of the stand and ripped up
floor bolts holding the roof. They were repaired quickly and Mac's was ready for the '79 season.
-- An eight-hour power outage in 1991 was no setback for Mac's. Although some menu items could not be made
due to the lack of generated power, much of the menu was available, and a busy night ensued because word
got out that Mac's was the only place open in town! Power was restored one-half hour before closing, but the
business continued well after closing time.
-- In 1994, a fire broke out in the ceiling above the fryers in the front end of the stand, during an extremely
busy Friday night. After a one hour delay, business was up and running again!
-- In 2000, a lightning strike on a busy Friday night knocked out power to the restaurant. Come to find out,
the surge destroyed the electric meter on the east side of the building, setting it on fire and completely burning
the mechanisms and service wires to it. Unfortunately, a beautiful Saturday's business was lost, since we had
to replace the entire meter!
In 2009, for the first time in Mac's Drive-In's long history, a young couple became the first non-MacDougals to be
part of the ownership of the restaurant. Longtime summer employees Craig and Becky Adam joined with Gerald
and Cathy to continue the traditions and high quality food and service for many years to come. And in the grand
spirit of "passing on the family business", Gerald and Cathy relinquished their reign to their son, Jim, to uphold
the "Mac"Dougal namesake and tradition. In 2016, Jim relinquished the torch to long-time employee John Conley,
making it the first time in 55 years that a "Mac" would not be an owner of the restaurant. However, the MacDougal
family still is around to help in the day-to-day preparations that the Drive-In requires.
In 2010, Gerald, Cathy and the entire Mac's Drive-In staff celebrated yet another unique and notable milestone...
2010 marked the 50th season of operation of the restaurant in the Finger Lakes region... quite an accomplishment
for a local business anywhere. The MacDougals are proud to be part of the fabric of this great region for over half a
century, and hope that the Adams (and future generations of Mac's fans and customers) will keep nostalgia and
great food alive for another 50 years.
Throughout the years, the MacDougals have made Mac's Drive-In one of the premier spots to visit in the Finger
Lakes. People come from near and far to "relive their youth" and just sit back with a frosty root beer and
remember "the good ol' days". With the torch passed to the Adams and the Conleys, the popularity and quality of
this quaint hamburger stand will continue for generations future.
It's memories like this that make Mac's Drive-In so special.
Originally written by Chris Tiffany, June 1997, Updated 2017