Facts and Story by Mark "Kip" Groesbeck.

In 1947, Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs opened the first drive-in restaurant in San Francisco, Mels drive-in. At the time, the drive-in restaurant concept was just beginning in America, and the agreeable weather of California was ideal for year round carhop service.

The original location of Mels drive-in was 140 South Van Ness Avenue. It consisted of ample grounds, attractively landscaped with the capacity for 110 cars, and a two-story rectangular building. Anyone who has seen the 1973 film "American Graffiti" remembers the familiar neon sign at the gang's favorite hangout spot buzzing in the background, blazing "Mels drive-in." Though the film was set in Modesto, California, the scenes at "Burger City" were actually filmed this first Mels drive-in location.

The restaurant was a hit from the start, generating almost the entire cost of the building and startup in the first month's sales alone. With a dining room capacity of 75 people, the interior was typical diner style with plenty of Formica, chrome, and comfortable booth seating. In the center of the main floor, a row of stools faced a circular dining counter that wrapped around two complete soda fountains and a battery of pie cases and coffee urns. The original cooker had the ability to turn out 180 hamburgers per minute. A large staff of cooks, busboys and smartly uniformed servers and carhops kept the food moving and the customers happy.

Motivated by the success of their first drive-in, Weiss and Dobbs opened their second Mels on Mission near Geneva in San Francisco, followed by a third location in San Francisco 3355 Geary Blvd. Weiss' son Steven worked as a soda jerk at the Geary Blvd location in high school, and would later be inspired to open a Next Generation Mels drive in in the exact location where the original once stood.

In the mid-1950s California became the state with the highest rate of car ownership in the nation. Weiss and Dobbs began expanding the San Francisco car service concept restaurant into a successful chain. By 1954 the Mels franchise was pulling in about $4 million annually. Weiss estimated they were cooking up 15-20,000 hamburgers a day. Mels became a fixture of contemporary life, with bright neon lighting, carhops, and a pre-fast food menu. In the 1950s and 60s you could find one or more Mels drive-ins throughout Northern California, locations stretched from San Francisco to Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, San Jose, Walnut Creek and Salinas.

The menu consisted of many more items than just the famous Melburger. Along with the cherished beverages, dessert and fountain specials, at just .85 cents the Chicken Pot Pie proved a favorite comfort food item . The choices of American-style food were almost endless, from Fried Spring Chicken ( just like Mom used to make), Roast Young Tom Turkey, Fried Jumbo Prawns, Chef's Salad Bowl, to Thick Top Sirloin Steak & Eggs. Hearty appetites favored sandwiches such as the Mels Poor Boy, a full pound of choice ground beef on a quarter loaf of French bread served with salad.

Mels continued to reign without major competition for almost 10 years, but the growing popularity of fast food chains eventually triumphed over the carhop craze. By 1972 Weiss and Dobbs had sold the Mels franchise to the Foster's chain. It was during this year that the location manager for "American Graffiti" picked Mels as the location to represent the scripted drive-in called "Burger City." Sometime after filming, Foster's filed for bankruptcy and the restaurant was sold again, and after a few more years in operation, Mels closed and was demolished in 1976.

In 1985, Steven Weiss and Donald Wagstaff decided to bring Mels drive-in back and opened the first of the Next Generation Mels on Lombard St in San Francisco. Weiss reached out to legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen about the restaurant's opening, and Caen wrote a series of columns leading up to the grand opening, building anticipation amongst those who were customers of the first generation Mels in their youth. On opening day, Mels was flooded with patrons bringing in their children and grandchildren to experience Mels just as it was in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Two years later, Weiss and Wagstaf decided to open a second location. The Pacific Stereo Store that occupied the building where the Geary St Mels he worked as a soda jerk in high school was closing and he decided to reopen a Mels drive-in there once again. During renovations, much of the original Mels structure and design was uncovered, and Weiss was able to painstakingly recreate the interior and preserve the integrity of the space. The time and attention to detail paid off, once again drawing customers from the old days and building a new generation of regulars who still frequent the restaurant today.

After the success of the first two San Francisco locations, Steven Weiss, Donald Wagstaff, and Gabriel Mendez expanded Mels into Southern California in 1989. Continuing the tradition of keeping the restaurants nostalgic, Weiss chose a historic "Googie" style building on Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks for the first of the Next Generation Mels in Southern California. The neighborhood embraced Mels, making it a beloved location for family dinners and late night indulgences.

In 1998, Mels opened a third San Francisco location on Van Ness Avenue. Located in a neighborhood rich in music history, business thrived on customers dropping in before seeing shows at nearby music halls and theaters. AMC opened a movie theater complex steps away, and the Van Ness Mels became a destination for after movie milkshakes and movie discussion.

Following the success of the Sherman Oaks locations, a second Southern California location was opened in 1997 on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA. The infamous Ben Franks had occupied the classic Googie building for decades, when Weiss went to City Hall to apply for a permit for to move Mels into the space and told the attendant his plans to move a classic diner into the building and preserve the integrity of the original facade, she told him he was the savior they'd been waiting for. The building had been slated for demolition to make way for a strip mall, and Mels moving in meant saving the building and the city declaring it a historic landmark. The Sunset Blvd location is the most iconic Mels locations, often photographed and used in countless tv and film spots. The only Mels open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the West Hollywood Mels is the premier after hours spot on the Strip, and a citywide favorite for breakfast, special weekend brunch, fresh juices, and other tasty and healthy alternatives to classic diner fare.

In 2000, a fourth Next Generation Mels was opened in the SoMa district of San Francisco on Mission St. The Mission St Mels is always bustling, a beacon for tourists, shoppers, and visitors to the nearby Moscone convention center. Surrounded by some of the city's best shopping, museums, and the West Coast's largest IMAX theater, the Mission St Mels is a popular destination in the heart of the city.

Hollywood is the setting for the third Next Generation Southern California Mels drive-in. Opened in 2001 in the famous Max Factor building on Hollywood and Highland Ave, Mels shares the building with the Hollywood Museum and boasts a full service bar inside, the Celebrity Bar. This location is right around the corner from Hollywood Blvd, and is a haven for locals and tourists alike to enjoy a little slice of Hollywood history and a hearty helping of Mels finest burgers, shakes and hospitality. It is open late nights to 3am on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends!

Mels strives to keep the spirit of the classic American diner and home style cooking alive and well. The tradition of serving quality food prepared under immaculate conditions in a courteous and cheerful manner, with fair prices and a high standard of excellence continues at all 7 Mels drive-in locations. We look forward to serving you soon! “Where the Locals meet to eat!”