Friday, June 2, 2017

A Beacon for Favorite Foods and Entertaining Service

When you enter The Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC, the sounds of the caller who takes order from customers as they arrive immediately captures your attention. As he barks their menu choices to the kitchen staff, they push their trays down the short line to the cashier. By the time they arrive, all items have been promptly prepared and served.

With a motto of “Where the Food Is Always Good,” the Beacon has been a local favorite since it opened in 1946. As it grew in popularity, it was moved to a new location and then expanded three times. Now the second largest drive-in in the United States, it serves a million customers each year. With a seating capacity of 350, customers are constantly coming and going, regardless of the hour, often in a line extending out the door.

The caller at the head of the order line barks each item to the kitchen crew.
When the drive-in opened, its menu was limited, but today the menu is so extensive that a new customer needs several minutes to decide among the choices: burgers, BBQ, chicken, and seafood are popular. Gizzards, beef hash, and other regional favorites are on the menu, which also includes several specialty items, such as homemade chicken stew.

The kitchen crew prepares orders as customers move towards the cashier.

Plates include two sides and “a-plenty” dishes (similar to combos of fast-food establishments) include french fries and onion rings to guarantee you are full “a-plenty” when you finish your meal. Because the Beacon serves more iced tea than anyone else in the country, I had to order it. Just the sugar needed for making its sweet tea is astonishing: 3,000 pounds each week.

The menu is more extensive than many new customers expect.

Because the Beacon has contributed so much to local culture, the road where it is located has been renamed for its founder, John B. White Sr. In addition, an adjacent street has been designated to honor its long-time caller, J.C. Stroble, who died in 2013 at age 71 after working 57 years at the drive-in.

Tray for two: flounder with onion rings, hushpuppies, chicken stew, slaw, hash tray, and peach cobbler.

Stroble, known as the “Beacon Barker” for how he shouted orders to the cooks, began working at the drive-in as a carhop when he was 14. Although he lost his sight to glaucoma at age 37, he continued to work, and his signature style helped to make the Beacon a celebrated institution. Because Stroble was such a Spartanburg icon, he was featured on a segment of CBS Evening News in 2011. Similar to Stroble, several other employees have been long-term veterans of the Beacon with more than 50 years of service.

The Beacon sells more iced tea than anyone else in the United States.

Eating at the Beacon is more than enjoying food. Listening to the caller, watching customers move through the line and gaze intently as their food is prepared, and being in the midst of repeat customers and first-time arrivals are just as much an integral part of a visit to the Beacon.

A million customers a year have easy access to the Beacon at its current location.