How Mel’s Drive In Skyrocketed To Hollywood Stardom in 75 Years

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Last year marked the 75th anniversary of Mel’s Drive-In, the beloved burger joint that has been serving up delicious treats to Californians since 1946! It is a proud moment for Los Angeles and San Francisco. And VICESNOB is honored to join others in celebrating this milestone. In honor of their special day, let’s take a look back at the history of Mel’s Drive-In and the impact that it has had on its community.

mel's drive in
Mel’s Drive In

The early days

We can take it further back. Let’s rewind time and go to the 1930s. That was the decade Depression hit. The decade saw the rise of department stores and the fall of small businesses as big corporations started buying up small companies, streamlining supply chains, and creating a new middle class. In this decade, David Mel Weiss grew up learning from his father, Jack, how to operate eateries before starting his eponymous restaurant that would, in time, grow to more than a half-dozen locations across California.

When Mels reopened, it was this big thing; everyone was super excited.

Colton Weiss – Co-Owner of Mel’s Drive-In
mel's drive in
Mel’s Drive In

The swinging 70’s

Now let’s fast-forward to the early 1970s. Having featured prominently in George Lucas’s 1973 film American Graffiti alongside hotrod cars, the family-owned diner was now a familiar sight to many Californians and movie freaks alike. By this time Mel’s Drive-In, the neon-riddled building in the Bay Area was a nostalgia trip of the movie’s previous release in the early 1960s. Old movie photos of the restaurant dating back to the ’60s and ’70s hang on the walls, often placed above the tilted glass window booths where customers could sit and place their orders. 

mel's drive in
Mel’s Drive-In
mel's drive in
Mel’s Drive In

It’s all in the family.

Mel’s Drive-In has seen its fair share of ups and downs as the years have passed. Today, Mel’s Drive-In is still family-owned and operated. David’s great-grandson, Colton Weiss, is the restaurant’s co-owner. He recounts fond memories of the place and how his father, Steven Weiss, had to restore the restaurant to its former glory, which culminated in opening in 1985 after the 1973 oil crisis left nationwide fuel supply scarce and expensive.

My father really saved the company,” he says. “When Mels reopened, it was this big thing; everyone was super excited. In San Francisco, all the folks who had gone to the restaurant when they were kids now wanted to share that with their kids.” 

What began as a single drive-in in San Francisco back in 1947 has thrived under the Weiss family, setting a legacy that continues to this day and is now run by Colton and Chasen Weiss along with their father Steven and Gabriel Mendez, who together operate eight restaurants across the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Hot spot for celebrities

Mel’s Drive-In has hosted generations of customers through the decades yet it still feels like stepping into a time machine. And what would time travel be without a little Hollywood glamor on the side? Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Diddy have all dropped in for a bite, a milkshake, or to hang out and enjoy themselves. An infamous incident with Snoop Dogg on the Sunset Strip led to much-hyped yet much-needed attention for the restaurant while experiencing an economic downturn during the pandemic.

mel's drive-in
Mel’s Drive In
mels drive in
Mels Drive In

LA landmark architecture

Still standing tall after 75 years, it is inevitable that the iconic image of Mel’s Drive-In’s fabulous architecture has been somewhat immune to the march of time. So, what has the restaurant’s longevity got to do with its architecture? Everything. 

The sharply slanted rooflines and tilted glass frontage are as much a part of San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars, and it has helped define the look and feel of Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s just one of those places that are synonymous with the City by the Bay.

mel's drive in
Mel’s Drive In

The Wrap

It’s clear to see why Mel’s Drive-In in Hollywood California has earned its place as an iconic American diner. From the friendly staff to the classic menu items and the long history that dates back 75 years, it is no surprise that this restaurant continues to be a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mel’s Drive-In, let’s take a moment to acknowledge how far they have come and how proud we are that they continue to serve up delicious dishes that bring comfort and delight to all who visit! Now go grab yo-self a delish burger at Mel’s you VICESNOB!

To see all of Mel’s locations you can visit their website here.

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