Central Ohio is ready for the Galley Boy.
Swensons Drive-In, the venerable Akron-based drive-in chain, officially will open its first central Ohio location Friday, Nov. 9, at 7490 Sawmill Road, though as many fans already have discovered, the eatery has been serving burgers and fries since its soft opening last week.
The store is Swensons’ 11th location and its first outside northeast Ohio.
A second central Ohio location, on Gemini Parkway near Polaris Fashion Place, might open by the end of the year. Company officials are exploring other central Ohio locations, but declined to identify them.
The chain’s signature burger, the Galley Boy, with its double patties, two sauces (tartar and barbecue), a slice of cheese, charred bun and an olive tacked on top, is likely to find a lot of fans here.
“I think they do it so well that they will find success,” said Bob Welcher, president of Restaurant Consultants Inc. “There is a bit of nostalgia that’s popular now, and I think Swensons hits that note.”
Swensons has a menu from a simpler time, featuring burgers, grilled chicken, sloppy Joes, BLTs and even fried bologna.
Although incredibly popular in Akron and Canton, where the chain was founded in 1934, Swensons has approached growth carefully. The company owns its stores and still does many things, like grinding its own beef every day, the same way it has since the beginning.
“That was really important,” said Crystal Griffith, Swensons director of marketing. “We had to figure out how we were going to make that work here.”
Unlike regional dishes such as Cincinnati chili, Swensons’ traditional drive-in menu will translate well to new markets, Welcher said.
There is no dining room at Swensons. Customers pull into spots, leave their lights on, and a server will dash to the vehicle. Carhops actually sprint around the parking lot yelling, “hot-hot,” to warn each other as they maneuver around corners and cars and in and out of the kitchen.
All the food is made to order, so it’s fast, but not McDonald’s drive-thru fast.
“We don’t have a heat-lamp lounge,” Griffith said. “That’s not happening here.”
The Sawmill Road location has 64 parking spots. Griffith said the site is roughly the same size and design of newer Swensons restaurants in northeast Ohio.
The menu also is the same; nothing has been added for central Ohio, although Griffith did mention that a hot fudge and peanut butter milkshake is as close as one might get to a buckeye flavor.
“We can mix any of the milkshake flavors together,” she said, “and we can put anything we have in the kitchen on a burger. Just ask.”
Welcher wondered if the lack of a dining room might hurt the chain in Columbus, given the region’s dearth of drive-ins and abundance of competition. Although people might eat in their cars quite a bit, they don’t often do so in a restaurant parking lot.
“Inside seating would help, but it isn’t who they are,” Welcher said. “There is a real novelty with (Swensons), people will want to try it and see what’s it like.”