Not a lot has changed since Wally’s Drive-in opened in 1951 on the corner of Walnut and North Fourth streets in Breese.
“We like to think not much,” said manager Jeff Gross with a wide smile. “We changed the counter(top) last year and had a lot of customers say they liked the old one better.”
Bob Schiefer, of Aviston, shrugged and sipped his coffee as he sat on a stool at the small U-shaped counter. He figured people missed seeing the worn spots where they rested their arms.
“I came here as a teenage kid,” he said. “It was a hangout spot years ago.”
And it’s still one today, said Jeff, 45. “On Saturday and Sunday, the wait outside can be 45 minutes for food. But it’s a social event. People sit and talk.”
Seating inside the tan brick building with brown trim is 15 stools, while there are tables outside and a covered patio with a walk-up window.
The Wally Burger ($1.95) is known throughout Clinton County and beyond for its great taste. Beef is ground daily on the premises for a classic that doesn’t need much gussying up: bun, burger and pickles.
“Really, it’s the fresh meat,” Jeff said of its simple appeal, and a dash of salt as the young crew lines up patties on the big grill.
It’s a thin burger, so doubles are common at $3.45, as are triples for $4.65. Add about 20 cents for cheese.
There’s even a record going for the number of burgers on a bun.
“People stack ’em,” said Jeff. “The record is 11 patties.”
While a Wally Burger is the No. 1 seller, you have to quench your thirst with No. 2 on the menu for a true Clinton County experience: Ski, Breese’s own soda made just a few blocks away at Excel Bottling Co.
There’s even a long-held belief that Wally’s can make you feel better after a few too many at the local taverns the night before.
“It’s called the Clinton County Hangover” cure, Jeff said. “It’s a double-cheese, fries and Ski.”
Beyond burgers, you’ll find cod and blue gill sandwiches ($3.75 to $4.25), grilled chicken sandwiches, crinkle fries ($2), beer-batter onion rings ($2.65), plus 16-ounce shakes and malts ($2.75), root beer/soda floats ($2.50), cones and ice cream.
Originally, the site was a gas station. Then in 1951, Wally Knue, now 88, hung out the sign that reads “The Original Wally’s Fast Food.” He passed the business on to his brother, Bob Knue, who passed away last year. Now Bob’s son, Rob, 43, is the owner. Rob and Jeff are first cousins who lived next door to each other growing up in Beckemeyer. Rob’s son works at Wally’s, too, and likely will be the next generation to keep the place going strong.
A bout of pneumonia put Wally in the hospital last week, but Jeff says he’s on the mend.
Up until then, Wally still worked at his namesake six days a week.
“We couldn’t keep him away,” said Jeff, who noted that Wally likes to use an ice cream scooper to form hamburger patties.
Jeff said Monday that loyal customers are waiting to hear Wally make his favorite comment about the business: “Rain, sleet, snow or shine, they come to Wally’s all the time.”