For the past month, something legitimately inspiring has been happening at a Roseburg fast-food restaurant.
The lunch rushes at Pete’s Drive-In have been legitimate rushes, after several tenuous years of teetering close to closing.
A Facebook campaign to save the 43-year-old grill and some good press have reminded many in Roseburg — including many former teenagers who used to whoop it up in and around the drive-in’s parking lot — that a burger joint that’s never changed its style still stands.
“It’s amazing,” said longtime owner Chuck Caskey, who’s been getting tips of $10 and even $50. “I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years.”
On West Harvard Avenue, about a quarter-mile off the interstate and a little past Subway, Domino’s and Taco Time, stands Pete’s Drive-in, established in 1964. Today it looks like a faded copy of how it must have looked in the 1970s and 1980s, when the drive-in was the place for kids cruising Harvard — once the city’s main drag — to stop and socialize.
Harvard Avenue and the rest of Roseburg look much different today. Fast food chains have arrived, and development along Garden Valley Boulevard to the north has arguably shifted Roseburg’s center of commerce away from Harvard.
The kids haven’t been hanging out like they used to, either. But things change, Caskey said, and they’ve certainly changed on Harvard, where he’s watched dozens of competitors come and go.
The 74-year-old had to shout over the noise created by four lanes of heavy traffic on Saturday to be heard.
Caskey said since 2000 things have been especially tough. But on Saturday, Pete’s was once again a very hot spot. Nearly every parking space was occupied for much of the early afternoon. Word is, the prior Saturday was even bigger, with waiting cars lined up down Ballf Street.
It started when Caskey’s life and business partner Carol Crawford resorted to begging on the restaurant’s reader board out front. “Help us stay open! Please eat here!” she posted.
Local media outlets noticed and did stories on the eatery’s financial troubles, and the community seems to have responded.
The windows of customer Matt Jackson’s GMC pickup on Saturday were painted to read “Eat at Pete’s!”
The Mercy Medical Center employee doesn’t know Caskey or anyone who works at Pete’s, but he saw on Facebook that his high school haunt needed help, so he’s been eating his Saturday lunches there.
“It’s a part of Roseburg and I’d hate to see it go,” he said.
Eileen Miller doesn’t know Caskey too well, either. But on Saturday, she and daughter Kim donated another weekend afternoon to wave signs along Harvard Avenue, imploring drivers to stop in and eat.
Caskey said he’s never faltered in his approach to serving quality fast food. He still gets in as early as 5 a.m. to cut the potatoes and make the fry sauce, and regularly puts in 17-hour days. He’s never frozen his meat. He’s had employees stay with him as long as nine years.
But how does his food taste in 2013?
The best thing you can say about a Pete’s Big Top Burger is that it tastes like a patty of ground beef under lettuce, onion, tomato and condiments, held together by two buns — that is, it tastes like a real hamburger.
The shake can give you a headache — not from the cold but from sucking so hard through the straw.
But isn’t that what a frozen dessert should do to you?
In the name of full disclosure, a reporter for The News-Review has had better fries than those he ate at Pete’s. But with visible skin and a tough texture, they were undeniably once real potatoes.
The three-piece meal cost $8.45. It took 10 minutes for four harried workers to make it and get it outside.
Is that too much to pay for a meal made by professionals? Is 10 minutes too long to wait?
For now anyway, Roseburg seems to think not.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.