White, who had begun working at a local drive-in at the age of eleven, was an astute businessman, a showman of sorts.
In 1946 John B. White opened the Beacon Drive-In restaurant on the outskirts of the city of Spartanburg. The name was selected in deference to a proposed beacon that was to shine forth from the rooftop. White, who had begun working at a local drive-in at the age of eleven, was an astute businessman, a showman of sorts. He constructed a helicopter landing pad across the street and erected a series of billboards along highways advertising, for example, “You Are Only 100 Miles from the Famous Beacon Drive-In.” If a competitor opened nearby, local lore holds that White would tell his cooks, “Put more meat on the bread, pile more fries and rings on top.” When White ran the enterprise, the Beacon served an evangelical role in the community. Easter services were held at sunrise in the asphalt parking lot, and revivals– complete with a gospel band and a throng of worshipers–were staged each Sunday in August. Also popular was a July Fourth “I love America” celebration.
Though White sold the enterprise in 1998, the Beacon continues to do a high volume of business. Among the signature dishes is the “Chili Cheeseburger a Plenty” (a traditional cheeseburger smothered in chili and then topped with a tangle of French fries and onion rings) and the “Pig Dinner” (ten scoops of ice cream atop two bananas, the whole affair smothered in whipped cream).
One colorful figure at the Beacon, J. C. Stroble, was a veteran of more than forty years as a curb-hop and order-taker. “Let’s Don’t Boogie-Jive. Let’s Merchandise!” read a placard that hung above his head. Even after a bout with glaucoma dimmed Stroble’s sight, he worked the crowds ably. “Talk!” he would boom as customers approached. “I’m ready for you. Come on with it. Tell me! Tell me!”
Edge, John T. Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South. Athens, Ga.: Hill Street, 2000.
Rogers, Aida. “Big, Loud, Cheap and Good.” Sandlapper 7 (spring 1996): 29–31.