Inspired by similar restaurants serving motorists in Los Angeles, Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs founded Mel’s Drive-In restaurants in 1947 in San Francisco, California. Night and day, hordes of patrons that fancied dining-in-your-car came early and often. It didn’t take long for the first restaurant to multiply into eleven.
In 1972, the original Mel’s located at 140 South Van Ness in San Francisco was selected as a feature location by filmmaker George Lucas for his 1973 coming of age film American Graffiti. When filming began, the restaurant had been closed for several years and was slated for demolition, perhaps the consequence of Mel’s then newly introduced concept of “serve your self“.
George managed to lease the location and brought the restaurant back to life again, even if it was just for 2 hours on the big screen. After filming wrapped, bulldozers tore down the remnants of the historic drive-in. However, the prominent play given to the location has been credited with saving Mel’s from possibly going out of business.
Today, several Mel’s Drive-in restaurants still exists around the bay area. The most famous ones are probably the somewhat cheesy replicas located at Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood. Have you visited them yet?