The local root beer stand, a well-loved bit of Americana, will be the topic of the Feb. 7 Holmen Area Historical Society meeting with a particular focus on the Holmen A&W Drive-In.
Former owner of the root beer stand, Willie Avery, will present the program beginning at 7 p.m. in the Holmen Village Hall, at 421 South Main St. The meeting and program are free and open to the public.
Avery bought the business, now known as The Frosty Mug, from Frank Sjolander in 1964, operating it for about 10 years. He made the purchase shortly after he got married.
“I surprised by wife with that,” said Avery, “but she was a big help. She would take care of it when I was playing ball. I would hurry back to it when I was done with my games. It was a pretty good deal, but we had mishaps and some blunders.”
Avery remembers a time when he got low on the concentrate and a shipment wouldn’t arrive before he ran out. He contacted Rudy’s Drive-In to see if they had some he could buy.
“He gave me a scolding and told me I needed to plan ahead,” said Avery.
Although the business was seasonal, it was still a demanding job. Avery remembers how the stand would get a rush of customers or late night orders.
“There were times it got kind of hectic,” said Avery. “There were times a bunch would come from the Boy Scout Camp and then some nights I’d be cleaning up and I’d get an order for pizzas.”
As an A&W franchisee, Avery ordered the root beer concentrate from California. The recipe called for four gallons of the syrup and 100 pounds of sugar mixed with 50 gallons of water. Then, carbon dioxide was injected to carbonate the drink.
Along with pizza, Avery added fish sandwiches to the menu of hot dogs and hamburgers. According to Jill Nelson, a former employee, a favorite was a hamburger with cheese and fried onions.
Nelson was one of many Holmen youth who worked at the drive-in over the years.
“It was my first job,” said Nelson. “It was a summer job and it was such a fun place to work. Willie was a peach to work for.”
One memory that stands out for Nelson during her time at the drive-in was when a car filled with out-of-town visitors stopped for root beer. When she went to pick up the tray after the family was finished with the beverages, she counted the number of mugs.
“I said, ‘I’m missing a mug,’” said Nelson. “Soon, the baby mug appeared. I was surprised I had the guts to say something.”
Nelson was working at the stand when the Averys were in the process of selling the business to Lawrence and Judy Wagner. The Wagners have since sold the drive-in.
The A&W brand was started in 1919 in Lodi, Calif., by Roy Allen. Allen bought a recipe for the beverage from an Arizona pharmacist, a formula that still remains a proprietary secret.
Initially, selling the frosty mugs of root beer for one nickel, Allen soon opened more root beer stands in other locations in California. In 1922, Allen partnered with Frank Wright, an employee from his original Lodi location.Combining their initials – “A” for Allen and “W” for Wright – the two patented their beverage and continued to open more California locations, eventually expanding across the western United States.
Drive-ins were becoming increasingly popular after World War II and A&W became one of the few nationally established drive-in restaurant chains. By 1950, more than 450 A&W restaurants were operating nationwide, expanding to over 2,000 by 1960.
For more information about HAHS or the February program, email HAHS President Hannah Scholze at email@example.com.