Inside St. Louis

An original water color painting of Carl's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.


     Carl’s Drive In is a blast-from-the-past eatery where you can get a loaded double cheeseburger, golden onion rings and quench your thirst with a frosty mug of ice cold root beer. This classic burger joint looks a lot like it did back in the ‘50s when Carl Meyer and his wife, Pat, bought the place. Even the menu hasn’t changed much over the years because, as owner since 1987 Frank Cunetto says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Carl’s Drive In packs ‘em in and serves up good food at cheap prices. It’s a long time St. Louis local institution and there’s a good reason why.


     Claim your seat at the counter and you’re in for a treat. You can enter from either the east or west entrance and within two steps you’re at a old-fashioned Formica counter which holds 8 classic chrome and vinyl stools on each side, separated by the cooking area. Customers have a clear view of the grill as well as the huge, original wooden Multiplex

Root Beer Barrel situated smack dab in the middle of the building. If no seating is available when you arrive, the food staff will quickly take your order and the time a stool is available you’re order will be ready. Just watching the rhythm of how Carl’s manages to handle the crowds is worth the visit. But be aware of “Carl’s etiquette”; the unspoken understanding that after customers have enjoyed their meal, they move on so the next customer can grab a stool. Frank and his staff cook up a mean burger which keeps the regulars coming back for more. The no nonsense staff who keeps pace with the operation are sisters Kelly McFerrin and Pam Martin, their niece Lisa Waggoner, Bill Neumann, and Frank himself armed with a spatula preparing each meal to order.


     Frank has many stories about long time customers. Nancy Demaree has been stopping by Carl’s every day for years and always orders a single hamburger. She’s a petite little woman who never gains an ounce. Local neighborhood resident Jim Roehm, who used to work at Carl’s years ago, comes in almost every single day after work year after year. One customer, known only as Jack, was a fixture at this hamburger heaven. He worked at a nearby gas station and started eating lunch there before Carl bought the place and he came in daily from 1959 until 1993 when he retired. We’re told his boss would call to let Carl know if Jack was out sick or on vacation so they wouldn’t worry about him. Now that’s a “regular”!


     This popular refueling stop has served many high school students over the years. Stories are told about scores of teens making Carl’s their regular after school meeting spot, and rival sports teams would claim either the east or west counter as their private territory never to be crossed by the opposing high school. There has been plenty of excitement at Carl’s over the years. Rival high school sports teams got a little too rowdy at times, teens got together to play cards or dance on the counters after hours to the jukebox, and rent-a-cops made their presence known and broke up the occasional fist fight. At least 3 instances of cars crashing into the building due to its close proximity to Manchester Road add to the colorful history. In fact, one customer at the wheel of his mother’s car braked with the accelerator pedal and smashed though the building just inches from where Carl was flipping hamburgers. And although Carl’s Drive In was a thorn in the side of the Brentwood high school coaches at the time, one retired coach now brings his grandkids in to enjoy a great meal and reminisce.


     Local celebrities have made Carl’s their regular stop for grub, too. Some of those lucky souls who discovered Carl’s Drive In and became regular customers include a variety of professional sports figures. Back when the Blues practiced in Brentwood the players would stop by for a burger. The Football Cardinals made it their regular haunt and the Rams were known to stop in also. Dick Vermeel’s wife frequented Carl’s and her husband would join her occasionally.    Frank

fondly remembers the friendly chats he had with the late legendary sportscaster Jack Buck who would drop in to enjoy his comfort food. Rock Hill’s infamous radar cop, Ron Ziegler, still comes in regularly for lunch when not busy writing speeding tickets to unsuspecting victims.


     But the most interesting stories of all are about how this pint sized building transformed into the well loved burger joint it is today:


     The building was originally built as a Lubrite Service Station in the late 1918. Several operators used the service station building including the Walter Schuermann filling Station in the early 1930s and the M. Nezol Gas Company in the late 30s.


     The building was converted into a summer time hot dog stand with outdoor seating only in 1943 and was called the Foot Long Hot Dog Company. Then in 1950 it was owned by Walter Breeden who had Breeden’s Long Dog, also known as the Good Food Drive Inn, serving hot dogs, IBC root beer for 5 cents, and root beer floats for 15 cents. After a tornado badly damaged the building in 1959, Breeden rebuilt and it was business as usual.

     But that same year, 25 year old Carl Meyer, whose family delivered meat to Breeden’s restaurant, bought the place with his wife, Pat, and named it Carl’s Drive In which offered curb service and a walk up window. The restaurant quickly became a popular hang out for high school teens and by 1962 business was booming. A major remodeling effort took place and the building was enclosed to offer air conditioning and indoor seating for 16. Curb service was discontinued in 1969, thus the end of the car hop era at Carl’s. Customers preferred the convenience of air conditioning and good help was hard to find. But a single picnic table remains for those patrons wanting the outdoor experience while chowing down on a thin, crispy-edged burger or a deep fried curly Q hot dog and washing it down with a cold refreshment.


     Back when Carl Meyer owned the business, he purchased IBC syrup from Bud Taylor, who owned Chuck-A-Burger and a Forest Park concession stand and sold over $2,000 worth of root beer a day. In 1975, Taylor went out of business, but as a favor to Meyer he passed along the formula. The

story goes that flavor analysts from the 7-Up Company visited Carl’s Drive In during the 1980s to sample the root beer. They were reviving the IBC brand and wanted to replicate his recipe for mass consumption. It’s believed that the IBC available at your local grocer is based on Carl’s recipe.


     Frank Cunetto, the current proprietor, recalls his first time visiting Carl’s with his older brother who just got his driver’s license. Frank, who was a neighborhood kid, continued to hang out at Carl’s during his teen and adult years. In 1986, Frank decided to get out of the wholesale clothing business and try his hand as a restaurant owner. When a deal fell through to buy an Italian deli and restaurant in town, Frank stopped by Carl’s to tell him about the failed transaction. That conversation resulted in Frank becoming half partner with Carl Meyer at Carl’s Drive In where they worked together for 13 months before Frank bought out the other half of the business when Carl went into retirement.


     Frank continues Carl Meyer’s tradition of serving up the tried-and-true menu items. The foot long dogs and their curly Q version are tasty, but the burgers win out 10:1 when it comes to the most popular item ordered. The only significant changes during Franks’ tenure at this place referred to by some as “16 seats in heaven” have been the addition of

Chili 3-Ways to the menu and the availability of the enormous Ronnie’s Rocky Mountain a handmade ice cream novelty item, created by St. Louis’s own Ron Ryan. The prices at Carl’s have remained modest over the years and have increased only due to wholesale costs. 

     Carl’s Drive In still uses an original wooden root beer Barrel to make its homemade “beer”. The barrel, which was there when Carl Meyer took over the place years ago, provides a good refrigeration unit that keeps the syrup and carbonated water at just the right temperature. It has a handle on the front which, when pulled to the side, combines the syrup and carbonated water perfectly to make the ideal mixture. An important step in serving the flawless root beer is how the employee “draws” the root beer just the right way, and when drawn correctly the head can stand in place for several hours if untouched. As a note of interest, in 2004 The Antique Warehouse was granted special permission to dispense Carl’s root beer using an original Multiplex Root Beer Barrel and 5 gallon soda cans, a system perfected by Frank Cunetto and Ron Ryan.


     Antique Warehouse Curator, Greg R. Rhomberg, remembers discovering Carl’s Drive In the morning after his initiation into the Sigma Chi Fraternity at St. Louis University. Years later he watched his oldest daughter cut her teeth on a single hamburger with ketchup and a free “baby beer” back when they had the 3 ounce mini mugs. Those mini mugs and the 24 ounce fish bowl schooners are no longer manufactured so the root beer is now served in 12 and 25 ounce frosty mugs. There is no ice in the root beer and it is never served with a straw. And don’t expect a frosty mug if you order a Coke; it’s reserved for root beer only. Greg remembers when his daughters reached the ages when they would order three refills of their complimentary baby beers and get a scowl from Frank who thought ordering a small mug from the get go might have been wise. The whole Rhomberg family still makes regular visits to Carl’s, and Greg and Frank have become good friends over the years.


     Carl’s was known to have impromptu eating contests back when gluttony was a good thing. The most burgers eaten in a 30-minute period? 21 burgers devoured by a member of the St. Louis Slammers women’s professional football team. The most hot dogs? How about 13 foot longs washed down by 3 large and 2 small root beers by another determined customer. That’s 10 pounds of food in 30 minutes!

Carl’s Drive In captures time gone by and offers character like no other. Stop in sometime and grab a burger and a “beer”. You’ll be glad you did.

Click here to view a historical timeline & pictures of Carl's Drive In


Contact Information Carl’s Drive In  
9033 Manchester Road
Rock Hill, MO
Click here for MapQuest directions
Hours of Operation

Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 8

  Closed one week in September and two weeks in February


Written By: Judy Hartman

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