Big Star Drive-In has been a Kenosha landmark since 1954. Mary LaFerney’s parents started the business, and now her son Chuck owns it. She stays involved with the business, and says it’s always the first sign of spring - and also means summer’s not far behind - when Big Star opens for a new season each March. It’s been at the same location, 1500 Washington Road, from the start.
"You just don’t find drive-ins anymore," Mary says. She reminisces how drive-ins were a big deal throughout the country in the 1950’s. To this day, Big Star car hops serve the customers. The car hops can wait on up to thirty cars in the parking lot at one time. Additional cars literally circle the parking lot or wait in the alley for an opening. Bicyclists, walkers, and motorcyclists step up and order at a counter.
Big Star is especially known for its double cheeseburgers and ice cold root beer served in frosted mugs. Root beer and orange soda are also available by the quart or gallon to take home. Among the menu options, its Fish Fry is a popular Friday tradition. Breaded mushrooms, cheese sticks, popcorn chicken, and jalapeno peppers can be ordered on the side. Everything is served fresh, made the way customers want it, Mary says.
Big Star opens around March 1 each year. It closes on August 31st as kids head back to school. It’s not unheard of for 3,000 burgers a day to be served at the season’s beginning. Regular customers keep coming back, year after year, as do the employees. Prices are very reasonable; a hamburger costs just 95 cents.
Mary recalls her fourth grade end-of-the-year picnic, when hamburgers from her parents’ business were served, and the students would have a picnic across the street at Washington Park. To this day, nearby schools still come to Big Star for their picnics. Back in its heyday, when the bicycle races at the Washington Park Velodrome drew massive crowds, spectators would pop over to Big Star for root beer, popcorn, and burgers.
While drive-ins were a thing of a by-gone era, Mary says Kenosha has been "nice enough to accept and support us all of these years". She says the whole town has been faithful to her family’s business.
Mary was confident when buying an ad in the Kenosha Area Visitors Guide that it would turn out great, because "it’s such a nice magazine." Big Star purchased an ad so people visiting the Kenosha Area, or who may be new to the area, could learn about Big Star. Calling the drive-in "kind of unique", and something that can’t be found in Chicago, Mary says, "It’s a fun place to come."
Big Star Drive-In is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, from around March 1 to August 31.
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