|Since 1956, when Mike Householder moved his 13-year-old business from his trailer to the current location of Mike’s Drive Up, little has changed about the business. From the wordplay signs on the wall to the hand-cut garlic fries and homemade chili, the little hamburger shop is essentially the same as it was more than 50 years ago, said current owner Frank Carpenter.
Carpenter, who has owned and operated the business with his wife Sherry for 20 years, said the business has been run by a few different families since Householder retired, and was purchased by Sherry’s family in the early 1970s. When her parents retired, she and Frank took it over, and said they hope their son James will take over the business when they retire.
The main changes in the business that have occurred in the last 50 years can be counted on one hand: the installation of a soda fountain, introduction of an electronic register and combining their chili and fries for chili cheese fries. The most recent change took place last October, when the business began accepting credit and debit cards.
“He resisted it for a long time, but finally he gave in,” Sherry said about her husband.
Frank, Sherry and James are the only employees of the business, so when they want a vacation the business closes down, often to the dismay and complaint of their loyal customers, Frank said.
In the last 50 years, Eureka has seen change that includes the growth of chain fast-food restaurants like Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Though competition has increased, Frank attributes the long life of his business to a strong customer base.
Sherry said they were worried when Wendy’s moved down the street, but she said it ultimately helped Mike’s by bringing more people to that part of town. She said Grocery Outlet and other businesses that have come to the area have brought more customers, as well, and so the business is still going strong.
“We lose customers when they move away, but that is about it,” Frank said. “We have actually gotten calls from places like Connecticut, Maine and Alaska, from customers who moved away but really want one of our chili dogs. We have sent hot dogs, dry-iced, over to the East Coast for them — hey, it’s cheaper for them than coming out here.”
One of the most defining characteristics of Mike’s is its garlic fries. Frank said he often gets checks made out to “Mike’s Garlic Fries,” as that is evidently how the check writer thinks of the business. When he takes money and checks to deposit at the bank, the tellers frequently tell him the cash smells of garlic.
Frank displayed one of the T-shirts sold from the shop, which proudly states the motto “We advertise by word of mouth,” which he said is a tribute to the garlic breath one gets from eating the business’s garlic fries.
Sue Parnell, who lives in Scotia, said she first went to Mike’s in the early 1950s and has been coming back regularly since.
“I love the garlic fries, especially — you just can’t get them like this anywhere else,” Parnell said. “This place is always clean, fast and the service is always friendly.”