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Lonnie’s Drive-In Des Moines Iowa: Biggest 35-Cent Tenderloin In Town

A number of our readers have asked for photos of drive-in restaurants of which good ones are difficult to find, although for today’s feature image we have a shot of Lonnie’s Drive-In, located in Des Moines, Iowa, taken in the early-to-mid-1950s.

Evidently, Lonnie’s had some competition in Des Moines, the capital city and the largest in the state because the signage on the front of the building reads “The Original Home Of The Biggest Tenderloin In Town” at 35-cents. In addition, the eatery served “Chicken in a Basket” for 98-cents, “Shrimp” and “Bar-B-Q Ribs” and provided “Car Hop Services.”

Based on the pair of early-1950s Chevrolet sedan deliveries parked out in front of the restaurant, a large portion of the Drive-In’s business evidently was the delivery of lunches and food during other times of the day and night.

View photographs and a video of other vintage drive-in restaurants posted here earlier, and tell us what you find of interest in this image sent in by contributor Benjamin Ames.

20 responses to “Lonnie’s Drive-In Des Moines Iowa: Biggest 35-Cent Tenderloin In Town

    • Based on the chrome trim on the trunk lid I think that’s a fairly rare 1953 Olds Fiesta, based on the Olds 98 and having the 1954-style wraparound windshield. Buick featured the same on its 1953 Skylark. I believe both cars were available only as convertibles.

  1. Interesting ( or just an odd coincidence? ) that the cars seen in the forefront of the photo all seem to be `53 models. The two Chevy sedan deliveries, a Ford Crestline club coupe, and what appears to be an Olds 98 cvt. on the other side of that. Drive-in restaurants are another of the items youth today are too young to have experienced, and that’s a shame. There was something about fresh, basically home-made food served to you in your car that was appealing and fun. My city of Omaha lost our last drive-in not that long ago; an A & W that dated back to 1947.

    • there is a franchise currently at least in Florida called “Sonic” that features a central food prep area, fronted by an out side eating area maybe accommodating about 50+ in addition, with a central wide sidewalk with cars either side all w/menus-2 way speakers in pairs all under cover extending front and back as large as the property (including drive around/ in-out accessibility) accommodates. Standard fast food fare.

  2. A very rare ’53 Oldsmobile Fiesta convertible on the far
    right side of the picture. Only made 500 and some and
    discontinued after that. Lonnie was doing well if it’s his
    or he has some well off clients.

  3. I know links aren’t allowed, but a quick check on Google under ” vintage drive-in restaurants”, showed a bunch of images. I like in tiny letters under Shrimp, “Blink lights for car hop service”. In later years, apparently people didn’t get the message and still beeped the horn, and later signs said, “blink lights for service, try as we might, we can’t see who beeped the horn”.

    • Very quickly they had available meter like standards equipped with portable mikes that you spoke into and they took your order then brought it on a tray to your car… we Americans are very ingenious . Later they put girls on roller skates to bring them… and ‘so it goes”

  4. Lonnie Connors operated Lonnie’s Drive In at 1175 Second Avenue in Des Moines in July of 1952. At that time the Des Moines Register reported that Mr Connors was fined $25.00 by a judge after being convicted of employing an underage carhop to work at Lonnie’s Drive In at 1175 Second Avenue. (15 years of age according to the reports online.)

  5. the 3 “Spring Edition” GM convertibles were the Olds Fiesta, Buick Skylark and the Cad Eldo all featured a dippped beltline; the ’54 wraparound windshield…except the Skylark sported a chopped standard windshield, as noted the 3 are fairly rare and top of their respective marques. Then and now.

    • Thanks, Graham. I was wrong about the ’53 Skylark’s windshield but it did introduce the “sweepspear” side trim and circular rear wheel openings that appeared on regular Buicks in ’54.

  6. David, you were quite right when you said, “evidently, Lonnie’s had some competition in Des Moines…because the signage on the front of the building reads “The Original Home Of The Biggest Tenderloin In Town”. Lonnie’s was located on the corner of 2nd and University. Across University and approximately 50 yards east was Millie’s Drive-In. Millie first claimed “The Biggest Tenderloin in Town” after which Lonnie countered by claiming to be the original. In the end, Lonnie’s disappeared during the early 1960s when the United States Post Office acquired and demolished the building in order to erect the town’s new main post office. Millie’s remained in business well into the 1980s — maybe longer. (I used to layout their advertising when I worked for The Des Moines Register back in the day.) Millie’s building is now occupied by Taco Loco.

  7. Joel is right about the full cut-out wheel openings on the Skylark
    very classy and a big step ahead for ’53. The ‘sweepspear’ goes
    back to ’49. Shortly after the introduction of the Riviera, Buick
    introduced a new style trim they called the sweepspear and used
    it every year in different configurations up til ’58. The Skylardk
    is still the best design.

  8. In Helena MT we have a drive inn (RB Drive Inn) that dates back to the 50s. Still has car service but unfortunately is having a tough time of it with the current business atmosphere.

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