Customers packed the A&W restaurant in Clintonville from 3 to 6 p.m, Tuesday, July 1, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the business.
To commemorate the occasion, A&W offered special deals to customers. Erica Hundertmark, general manager of A&W, said they sold 700 hot dogs and about 500 root beers during the celebration.
“Everybody was happy,” she said.
Hundertmark said the business was first started by her grandfather, Howard Hundertmark, when he bought a franchise from A&W in 1939. He owned a gas station on the corner, and built a small building to sell hamburgers and root beers.
Howard and his wife Rella worked the restaurant.
“In 1939, it was right after the depression and right before the Second World War so starting a business and having it last through those times really is a testament to the community and their hard work,” Erica said.
Howard and Rella had three children — Bruce, Donna and Roseann — who all worked at the restaurant.
“It was very much a family business,” said Erica, who is Bruce’s daughter.
During the course of 75 years, the restaurant has gone through many renovations and changes.
Erica said it got a bit “fancier” in 1960.
In 1971 a canopy was added to create a drive-in atmosphere.
“It was like the old drive-in where you would come in and park under the canopy, order from the car, and car hops would bring the food out,” Erica said.
Erica said Bruce took over the business in 1975 and added a dining room. Bruce still owns the business.
The dining room area was added on to in 1976.
Changes in technology led to a major change in 1997, when the canopy was removed and a drive-thru was added.
“That enabled us to serve many more customers all year round,” Erica said. “Being in a cold environment, nobody wants to sit in their car when it’s freezing.”
One thing from the past that many customers remember was each booth having a phone in it. Customers would use the phone to order their meals. Those phones are also gone now.
“We did a whole remodel in here, and we do counter service now instead of table service, but we still deliver the food to the table and you still get a frosty mug,” Erica said. “We still make the root beer the same way that we did all those years ago.”
The long history of the business was one of the things that brought Erica back to the business in 2010.
“This is my family’s legacy, so that was very important,” Erica said. “When I was in high school I swore I would never come back. I went to college. I went to grad school and lived outside of Wisconsin. That was great, but then I ended up moving back to town to be closer to family. It was just perfect timing.”
Erica said that during high school she worked at the restaurant in many different capacities, including car hop and working in the kitchen.
Now, as general manager, Erica said she doesn’t count the number of hours she works per week.
Erica said she wasn’t surprised by the community support during the celebration on July 1.
“They have before so I really wasn’t surprised,” Erica said. “I’d like to think it was more than just the 25 cent and 5 cent specials.”
She said there were a lot of familiar faces at the celebration. And a lot of memories were shared. Former employees, including car hops from the 1970s, stopped by during the celebration.
The president of the A&W corporation as well as the regional manager were on hand, as well as owners of A&W restaurants in Green Bay and the Fox Valley, Erica said.
“We have a lot of support from the community but we also have a lot of support from the A&W family,” Erica said.
Having the business in the family for 75 years is an honor for the family, Erica said. She added that the A&W in Clintonville is the oldest, single family owned A&W franchise in the world. There are older A&W franchises, but they haven’t been owned by one family the entire time.
Erica added that she is proud of the employees of A&W because they put in the effort year round.
“I feel like my employees are my family because I spend so much time with them and we really have a family environment,” Erica said. “I really want to acknowledge them and say thank you to them.
“We’ll have another party in another 25 years.”