Drive-In to Eat Out in Bathurst
One of Canada's last remaining drive-in restaurants is still in service to customers. Perhaps this remaining actual drive-in restaurant is the only one left of its genre. This popular local Maritimes-based restaurant has not veered from the original restaurant success formula. Today, in Bathurst NB, (pop 12,000), you can still drive into the angled parking aisles of the Big D Drive-In Restaurant for a meal. Taking in the unique A-frame building layout, you could think you were living in a time warp. A carhop server at your vehicle window is still a featured meal server delivery to this day. When the Big D launched, color TV's were rare, expensive, and very small-in-size, while cars were very big. In 2017, a uniformed server shows up at your car window with a range of menu options. The server happily takes your order and delivers it back in just a few minutes. Same tray on the window service that those of certain age may fondly recall. You do not have to leave your vehicle. The Big D is an iconic, fast food dining experience. Possibly the last remaining one in Canada, says its present owner.
Keith Degrace now of Atlantic Host Inn, launched The Big D Drive in 1969. In 1972, the current owner Richard Dobson joined Keith right out of high school. Richard says he started at the back door and worked at every position in the restaurant since. In the mid-70's, Richard managed a second Big D location (now closed) in a nearby community 60 miles away. He returned to Bathurst in 1980, and a new business chapter opened in his young life. Today, Richard is the jovial Big D's owner, a position he and wife Glenda took on in 1980. While Keith successfully launched the Atlantic Host Inn, Richard preserved the Big D's unique curb appeal and menu. Richard says that the Big D is now unique in Canada as a drive-in because it still offers curb to car server delivery. The restaurant is open 12 months of the year. He says on a cold blustery winter day you can still get a full meal delivered to your vehicle's window. The popular drive-in offers a relaxed, drive in as you are dining experience in summer. "Over the years, we have broadened the Big D's original menu. Still today, the Degrace family branded "Danny Burger" accounts for 44% of our business. People who have moved away come back home and the first thing they do is come in and order a Danny Burger, or another one of their favourites." "Some things did change. When I started, we would be open to 2:00 AM closing after the music clubs closed. Today, we are open from 11:00 AM to 9 PM in winter, and close at 10 PM during the summer season". "Our menu includes steamed roast beef on a bun, which is a strong menu performer. Another menu item that we are popular for is our fried clams, which is a customer favorite, ", says Richard. We run with a staff of 15 and have a few summer students". "We double our business volume in the summer. There is a campground at Youghall Beach nearby to our location and that brings a lot of hungry customers. We advertise on the local radio stations in both French and English and have since we opened”. "Radio works well for us in reminding customers to come back and visit us again. I have no Facebook page and do not have a website. We get a lot of repeat customer business and radio ads are still working well for us". "I have a staff member that has been here since 1986. A couple of the employees are celebrating 23 years plus at the Big D. There have been a lot of restaurants in Bathurst over the years, but we are now the oldest restaurant in the city". "A real joy for me is our daughter Glenna Smith, who trained as a nurse, and she is spending some time now helping out at the restaurant. Her presence makes a big difference in my staying involved and still working so hard every day". "The Degrace family helped me buy the business and that made a great difference in our life. Today, it is UNIPCO that makes a great difference in our business life now. We joined in the early days and it was a great decision for our business". UNIPCO over the years has helped me by keeping my costs in control. Being a UNIPCO member has been a good thing for my business. They keep me competitive in the pricing of what I buy and that makes a huge difference". "When you are young you think, you can do it all yourself, but in the long run, it is better to let them do it. It is important to have UNIPCO working for us".