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The Pigs Last Stand

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Kirby’s Pig Stand 1921
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By Grant Davies

On this day in 2006, an American institution became a historical reference. That is to say, a drive-in restaurant chain where you could get BBQ “on the fly” (I guess pigs really do fly) went the way of all pig flesh. The company that owned the last two went bankrupt and the state closed them down for non-payment of sales taxes.

But this wasn’t just any fast food joint. It was the iconic Pig Stand, and it was the first drive-in restaurant in America. Or anywhere else in all likelihood. It was also the first to do a lot of other things as well.

When Jessie Kirby and Reuben Jackson opened the place on the road between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas in 1921, they invented another “first.” They had young men in white shirts and black bow ties running towards the customers’ cars as soon as they pulled into the lot. They often hopped onto the running boards of those cars to take their food orders before they even stopped moving.

Yep, you guessed it, they were the first “car hops.” They were later replaced by cute girls on roller skates and they may have been the first to do that as well. (A&W drive-ins claim that they were the first, but this story isn’t about them, so they can cry in their root beer if they don’t like it.)

The food was good and the concept was even better, so success followed like rings followed fries. And speaking about french fries and rings, many say the cooks at one of the drive-ins invented deep-fried onion rings. Not to mention chicken-fried steak sandwiches and a regional specialty known as “Texas Toast.”

One of the places, Pig Stand #21 in California became the first “drive-through” in 1931.

After they had expanded from one into a chain of restaurants, they were among the first to create franchises so others could join the fun. By 1939 there were more than 130 of the spots operating in nine different states. A few other companies followed that business model. You might have heard of a place some folks call Micky Dees.

The war and the attending shortages of gas and money changed everything however, and by 1959 all of the sites outside of Texas had disappeared for one reason or the other. Those that remained shrunk away slowly until they were all gone by 2006 with the exception the two referenced above.

But don’t worry, in 2007 the bankruptcy trustees allowed one in San Antonio to reopen. So if you happen to be there and have a taste for the “pig” and some rings, stop in and say hello to history. Nowadays you have to walk in instead of drive in, but I’m sure you will be able to wash down your BBQ with a glass of nostalgia.

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