Before there were celebrity sightings and national media attention on San Juan Island, there were burgers and shakes at Vic’s Drive-In for over half a century.
On Thursday, June 28, the current owners celebrated 60 years of the establishment serving small-town American comfort food, while revealing future plans: the Second Street eatery may double in size.
While the owners and a few menu items have rotated over the years, a possible new building in the same location, said proprietor Brian Carlson, will cement Vic’s longevity on the island, proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“There will always be a Vic’s,” said Carlson, who has run the restaurant with his wife Theresa since 2016. “We hope that Vic’s remains an island institution for the next 60 years.”
This isn’t the first time the roughly 1,400 square-foot burger joint has received a facelift. Carlson said the building has had several additions over the years, often causing electrical and water issues. As a result, the family-owned business was forced to close for roughly 11 days over the last year and a half.
A new building would fix such issues, said Carlson, and preliminary plans include adding eight booths and 22 stools for seating by making the building “a little wider and a little longer.” He has yet to apply for permits, he added, so there are no exact dates on the new space.
When Vic and Marge Reynolds opened the diner in 1958, there was only counter service and no inside seating. Carhops never served drivers in vehicles, but customers often ate takeout in parked cars nearby.
Longtime islander Skeeter Lowe recalled that the building was “just a little square” when he claims he was the second person to order a Vic’s cheeseburger on that summer day, six decades ago.
“The first one was free; we were the experiment,” said 72-year-old Lowe about him and his friend, who lived nearby.
Today, cheeseburgers, specifically with bacon, are still the No. 1 order, according to second-generation staff member Miranda Reitan.
“People get it like it’s going out of style,” said Reitan, whose mother worked at Vic’s while in high school during the 70s.
Carlson estimates that 90 percent of the customers are local; an anomaly on the island that has become a vacation hotspot featured in national publications like The New York Times. That means no lag in customers throughout the year, added Carlson, compared to other island businesses that slow down or close during the tourist-dry winters.
“For the most part, the same people always come in,” said Reitan. “You know, it’s the island.”
While time goes on outside the eatery, inside the vinyl booths and concession stand menu signs resemble a page from an Archie comic. That nostalgia, along with the menu, will follow to the eatery’s new home, assured Carlson.
When the new building opens, there will still be the original house-made recipes for relish and tartar sauce; the height chart for island youth, with remnants of names from two decades prior; and, hopefully, those longtime customers like Lowe.
“I just about always have a cheeseburger, and sometimes onion rings,” he said on June 25. “I was just there this week.”