MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It feels like your time machine landed you along highway 81 in Brooklyn Park. Picture a 1964 Pontiac, a hot fresh cheeseburger, and a uniformed employee hanging your tray on your driver’s side window.
“We keep it going. We haven’t really changed anything since 1985,” said Jim Wagner, owner of Wagner’s Drive In.
It’s his second location; his parents bought the original Wagner’s Drive-In in St. Louis Park in the early 1970s (today, it’s the Galaxy Drive-In).
“One day my dad came home and said, ‘Guess what, we bought a drive-in,’ and I was thinking movies,” he laughed.
At the time, Jim says there were 600 Minnesota drive-ins; now there are just around five. Minnetonka Drive-In, Wagner’s, and the Galaxy are among that small group.
“It’s faster food but not fast food,” he said.
Faster but still excellent. The fries are always crinkled.
“Once I tried to change them to straight-cut and when I tested them with a dozen customers, every single one said they’d never come back if I got rid of the crinkle-cut fries,” said Wagner.
His burgers are juicy, hand-pattied, and smothered in cheese. But he also has a ham and cheese sandwich, roast beef which is hand-cut, soups, and salads.
“I tried shrinking my menu. I had so many people (say) ‘Don’t you mess with my sandwich.’ I was like, OK, don’t change it,” said Wagner.
Over the years, the business has had its share of challenges, including some expensive ones.
“We have had our building drove through twice. Seems like people want to make it a real drive-in,” said Wagner.
The last time, surveillance video caught the speeding driver bursting through the building, destroying his kitchen. Jim almost didn’t reopen, but the community changed his mind.
“Just friends and customers. I’m just the guy that has the keys,” he said.
Classic car clubs still gather here and so do customers from all around, digging into a piece of the past in the here and now.
“Lot of great people,” he said. “I love it.”
7000 W. Broadway Ave.
Brooklyn Park, MN 55428