On November 14, 2006, state officials close the last two of Texas’ famed Pig Stand restaurants, the only remaining pieces of the nation’s first drive-in restaurant empire. The restaurants’ owners were bankrupt, and they owed the Texas comptroller more than $200,000 in unpaid sales taxes.
A Dallas entrepreneur named Jessie G. Kirby built the first Pig Stand along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in October 1921. It was a roadside barbecue restaurant unlike any other: Its patrons could drive up, eat and leave, all without budging from their automobiles. (“People with cars are so lazy,” Kirby explained, “they don’t want to get out of them.”) Kirby lured these car-attached customers with great fanfare and spectacle. When a customer pulled into the Pig Stand parking lot, teenaged boys in white shirts and black bow ties jogged over to his car, hopped up onto the running board—sometimes before the driver had even pulled into a parking space—and took his order. (This daredevilry won the servers a nickname: carhops.) Soon, the Pig Stand drive-ins replaced the carhops with attractive young girls on roller skates, but the basic formula was the same: good-looking young people, tasty food, speedy service and auto-based convenience.
That first Pig Stand was a hit with hungry drivers, and soon it became a chain. (The slogan: “America’s Motor Lunch.”) Kirby and his partners made one of the first franchising arrangements in restaurant history, and Pig Stands began cropping up everywhere. By 1934, there were more than 130 Pig Stands in nine states. (Most were in California and Florida.) Meanwhile, the chain kept innovating. Many people say that California’s Pig Stand No. 21 became the first drive through restaurant in the world in 1931, and food historians believe that Pig Stand cooks invented deep-fried onion rings, chicken-fried steak sandwiches and a regional specialty known as Texas Toast.
But wartime gasoline and food rationing hit the Pig Stands hard, and after the war they struggled to compete with newer, flashier drive-ins. By the end of the 1950s, all of the franchises outside of Texas had closed. By 2005, even the Texas Pig Stands were struggling to survive—only six remained in the whole state—and by the next year they had all disappeared.
In 2007, state bankruptcy trustees found a way for one Pig Stand, in San Antonio, to reopen. Though it will probably never be as popular as it once was, and customers now have to get out of their cars and go inside to eat, the restaurant remains a sentimental favorite of many Texans.