Before the words "fast food" became part of our culinary lexicon, the only food that mattered to a generation of poodle-skirt wearing, car-cruising teenagers was the original fast food, served up by car hops alongside heaping portions of nostalgia with thick slices of Americana at the great drive-in.
In Bakersfield, Andre's was the place to be, not just for a juicy burger and milkshake, but for the generous sides of fun and socializing that were part of the drive-in scene.
"Home of the giant burger" was Andre's slogan for more than five decades, served by employees in their famous red and white stripped shirts. Not exactly what their French ancestors envisioned when they immigrated from the French Alps.
Cyrille Andre first came here in the late 1800s and worked as a sheep herder. He left for France before returning to Bakersfield with his wife Marie in 1910, part of the early colony of French settlers established locally. They had six children.
Relatives in Los Angeles suggested the family go into business for themselves. In 1946, siblings Joe, John and Mary opened Andre's Dairy Bar inside Food City Market on Chester Avenue and 18th Street.
"We were closed on Sundays so the whole family would go down to clean up," recalls 84-year-old John, the only surviving Andre sibling.
They sought advice from another start-up family, Mac and Dick McDonald, who opened the first McDonald's in the United States and also McDonald's Bar-B-Que in San Bernardino. The McDonalds offered the Bakersfield territory to the Andres, who declined, a decision the family never regretted.
Dairy Bar morphed into Quickie's Snack Bar near the campus of Kern Union High School and Bakersfield College, catering almost exclusively to students. In the summer of 1955, Andre's Drive-In opened on Niles Street. Two years later, the Brundage Lane location opened. Milkshakes were a quarter, and giant burgers cost 19 cents. Security guards were hired on weekends to oversee the sometimes mischievous teens, as cruisers would make their Chester Avenue loop at the Brundage Andre's.
The menu, featuring the French burger, fried pies and pastrami sandwiches, changed very little over the years. In 1968, they introduced their Big Boy Burrito, until threat of legal action from the Bob's Big Boy chain forced a name change to the Big Big Burrito.
"The drive-in was a ministry for dad because out the back door all the good deeds they did there feeding the poor and needy," said Paul Andre, Joe's son.
Joe Andre organized coat and glove drives for the needy decades before they became the charity staples they are today.
But as fast food restaurants muscled their way into the appetites of small town America, the drive-in's future was changing. Among the last of the independents, the Andre family refused to compromise on quality. In 1985, the original drive-in on Niles was sold. The Brundage eatery was sold about eight years ago though the iconic signs remain.
-- Lisa Kimble