Johnnie’s Drive In, 1945, Fitzgerald

Johnnies Drive In Parking Lot Fitzgerald GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Upon learning that Johnnie’s Drive In would soon be a memory, I immediately felt the need to take my camera and record some of the energy that makes this place so special. It’s important to many people for many reasons. It’s an anchor of my memory, where I’ve spent many evenings with dear friends who worked and socialized here, and where I’ve always felt at home. But it represents more than sentiment. It’s among the last generation of roadside diners and beer joints that rose to popularity during World War II where kids hung out beside juke boxes and car hops came to you and took your order. The car hops at Johnnie’s were gone by the late 1990s but I remember them well. Many thanks to Phillip Joe Luke for sharing this wonderful history. His words are in italics.

Johnnies Drive In Restaurant Fitzgerald GA Landmark Denise Picking Up an Order Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Johnnie Rochester Wise and Ollie Mae Roberts Luke Wise (Archival Images Courtesy of Phillip Joe Luke, unless otherwise noted). Johnnie and his family moved to Fitzgerald from Columbus in late 1930s.

Johnnie Wise Ollie May Roberts Luke Founders of Johnnies Drive In Photo Courtesy Phillip Joe Luke

The first family restaurant was in the 800 block of North Grant Street and it was called The Silver Moon. (It was opened by Johnnie’s father, John Franklin Wise).  About 1943 or so they opened Johnnie’s Drive In. The Johnnie scrambled hamburger  (better known as the Johnnie Burger) was his creation. The scrambled dog idea came from the Dinglewood Pharmacy in his native home of Columbus (it has a slightly different recipe).

Silver Moon business card from my collection.

Johnnies Drive In Before it was Johnnies The Silver Moon Grant Street Fitzgerald GA Late 1930s Collection of Brian Brown For Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

On the same lot of Johnnie’s Drive In was the old motel and the Princess Club. The Princess Club burned down many years ago and the remains of the motel are still there.

Abandoned Motel Beside Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The name of the motel has been long forgotten.

Abandoned Motel Beside Johnnies Drive In Interior Fitzgerald GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Here’s an image of Johnnie’s, in the early 1950s.

Johnnies Drive In Early 1950s Fitzgerald GA Archival Photograph Courtesy Phillip Joe Luke Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Beer was served, along with fried shrimp and fried oysters on the short order menu. The Scramble (not Scrambled, as many call it today) Dog and the Dog Cicle were popular items from the start, but the Dog Cicle, akin to a corn dog, has been gone for many years.

Johnnie died in 1969 and my grandmother carried on the tradition for many years. All of my family members dedicated their lives to Johnnie’s until their health failed and could no longer operate the restaurant. Uncle Coot managed during the day, Uncle Carl at night.

Russel Cooter Luke Johnnie Wise Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA 1950s Photograph Courtesy Phillip Joe Luke Vanishing South Georgia 2015

Russell (Coot) Luke, Jr., with Johnnie Wise (right).

Carl Luke at Johnnies Drive Photograph Courtesy Phillip Joe Luke Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Carl Luke manning the register at Johnnies.

Uncle Flop scrubbed that exhaust hood every Monday until it sparkled. Aunt Betty worked there off and on through the years. Even my mother served as a carhop while I was inside in a play pen. Many of you will remember Mary McElroy as one of the finest cooks in the history of Johnnie’s. Mary left us way too soon. We are so thankful that Jimmy and Carolyn Puckett came along to manage the restaurant in the mid 1980s. Restaurant management is not an easy task and Carolyn succeeded and made it look easy. Thank you so much. And thanks to all of the faithful customers for 70+ years of business in Fitzgerald. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Carolyn Chambers Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Carolyn Chambers has managed Johnnie’s for over 25 years and kept this landmark alive. Customers think of her as family and Johnnie’s a home away from home.

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Landmark Estelle Stapleton Cooking Breakfast Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Carolyn’s sister, Estelle Stapleton, has been cooking here for years. People love her as much as they love her food.

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Landmark Ruby Chambers Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Ruby Chambers, Carolyn’s sister-in-law, usually knows your order when you walk in the door. Love this lady!

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Landmark Restaurant Carolyn Chambers Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Denise Jordan helping Carolyn. I’ve known Denise all my life, too.

I want to thank Carolyn for giving me access for these photographs. I know she doesn’t really like to have her picture taken so it means a lot. I love all of you at Johnnie’s, past and present.

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Landmark Soon to Close Patrons Having Breakfast Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Homemade Breakfast Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Johnnies Drive In in 2012 Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Johnnies Drive In Fitzgerald GA Dr Pepper Sign Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

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22 Comments

Filed under --BEN HILL COUNTY GA--, Fitzgerald GA

22 responses to “Johnnie’s Drive In, 1945, Fitzgerald

  1. Geoff Jacobs

    THIS IS MAKING ME HONGRY!!!!!

  2. Gonna miss you guys!!

  3. Jesse M. Bookhardt

    Brian,
    It is disappointing that the good from the past has to eventually vanish. When I was a teenager back in the 1950’s, most South Georgia towns had at least one drive-in restaurant. They were an important part of the town’s culture. It offered good, reasonably priced food, and a gathering place for locals. Many of these old restaurants were converted houses and their parking lots were simply a cleared unpaved space. When it rained they were muddy and always had holes and dips. In my home town of Hazlehurst, the local McDonald family operated a drive-in (no connection to the modern restaurant) in a frame building on the south side of town on Tallahassee Street. Many teenage dates involved going to the “show” on Latimer Street on Friday or Saturday and then to McDonald’s Drive-In for hamburgers, fries, and shakes. The carhop came out, took your order and quickly returned with your food. Some drive-Ins provided a portable tray that could be attached to the driver’s side window.
    The locals always loved to drive around the area with their dates showing off their cars that featured loud glass pack mufflers, fancy white walled tires with fender skirts, and four barrel fueled eight cylinder engines. Those with funds that allowed waste, would often “lay rubber” on the asphalt roads. At the drive-In, the regulars sometimes organized a drag race that would take place out in the country at a specially selected isolated site. Though illegal, this activity tested the speed of their vehicles and gave bragging rights to the driver. This routine was played out all over rural America and South Georgia was no different. Rock and Roll music, drive-in movies, weekend shows, drive-in restaurants, and fast cars were part of the growing-up rites of the 1950’s.
    Today only a few of these old drive-In restaurants remain as cultural artifacts, and that is a shame.

  4. bell

    SO SAD!!! BUT ALWAYS LIVE IN OUR HEARTS!!!!

  5. Susie Hollingsworth

    Moved here from Miami in the 70’s. Opened J&l self service gas station in Fitzgerald. First self served gas station. Johnnies was the first place i ate at. Will always be a fond memory! Hate to see y’all go.Had some good times.

  6. Victor McGough

    These pics were great. It brought memories to me of the little drive in, The Grill, just north of Vienna in Dooly County. My aunt and uncle would take me there at least every other week. it wasn’t the palace Johnnie’s was but the food was great. It also reminded me of the drive in I frequented as a teenager in Miami FL, Hot Shoppes. It is now a used car lot.

    On another subject. My cousins always sends me books on the Civil War (War of Northern Aggression) for Christmas. I got around to the last one, The Civil War in Georgia, and I see your name as author of several parts. Thanks for all of it.

  7. Sandra Knight Rowe

    Such a part on our memories. We had Johnnie’s scrambled burgers for lunch during our reunion in 2013. Still loved then.

  8. The Scramble Burger was the best I ever ate! Lots of memories from my High School years, it was the place to go in the fifty’s!

  9. LaDon Day

    Enjoyed all the good times at Johnnies during the 1960’s, we lived out the ‘Ten Mile Trail’ in Irwin Co. But went to Fitzgerald all the time. Johnnies on one side of town, Joes on the other side. Great memories.

  10. Michael MacCausland

    Another lost treasure

  11. I remember going there as a young boy and later as a teen and adult; usually with cousins ‘Shag’ and ‘Bill’ Luke back in the day; always great food and great service; at age 74 now I have lots of memories to cherish but this ‘Drive In’ is one of my favorites. Sad to hear that it is closing.

  12. When will it be closing? I live in Jacksonville, FL but would love to come up to Fitzgerald and have one more meal for old times sake.

  13. Mrs. Dylan G. Moseley

    This is so great! I loved reading about this old diner. These places are mostly long gone, and it’s so sad. In a day of big chain restaurants, the little guys seem to get swept away. Kudos to you all for keeping this old gal alive for as long as you did. It makes me so happy to see things like this. Thanks for sharing this story.

  14. What a wonderful article and pics. Thank you, Brian and thanks to Caroline for sharing.

  15. Between that place and Harpers drive in in Ocilla, I spent a lot of time in the car , lol. 50 s

  16. Eddie

    Thanks Brian. You did a great job of recreating lasting memories for so many people. Thanks for the heartfelt article, the photos and keeping Johnnies Drive In alive for years to come.

  17. cody

    It’s closing? Wowwwww why

  18. Brian,

    What a sweet job you did with this great piece of American rural history.

    Thank you.

    • Victor McGough

      I had the same type of experience with drive ins as a teenager n Miami. They were just bigger and there were four or five. Thanks for the memories.

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