BRUNSWICK, Maine — Customers in the parking lot of Fat Boy Drive-in on Thursday — opening day — rolled down their windows and rolled up their sleeves. The first day of service at the Bath Road eatery meant it was time to do some serious digging — digging into traditional roadside fare that predates Ronald McDonald, that is.
As they basked in the “greenhouse effect” of the almost-spring sun’s rays on their windshields, eager Fat Boy fans conversed through open windows with occupants of neighboring cars: “I guess it’s that time of year.”
Shortly after 11 a.m., about 60 vehicles filled the parking lot of the drive-in that first opened in 1955. Mirroring the menu, the vehicles ranged from “beefy” pickups to “shrimpy” compacts — although no “lobster” Rolls Royce could be found when the opening bell sounded.
Belying the “fast food” label often affixed to roadside restaurants like Fat Boy, Thursday’s drive-by diners seemed content to wait for the cooking staff inside to respond to the opening day rush.
Nate Olehowski of Brunswick grew up in the area and said he’s come every summer and tries to make it on opening day. Waiting for their orders with his wife, Ferah Olehowski, and her sister, Sera Ileri, he said, “We haven’t eaten all day.”
“We saved our appetite for just this one day,” Ferah added.
Nate said they’d ordered two loaded burgers, a couple orders of onion rings and a lobster roll: “Definitely a taste of summer.”
“It’s worth the wait all year,” Ferah said.
Even if Thursday hadn’t turned out to be a beautiful day, “I would have come in the rain,” Ileri said. “This is a sign it’s finally starting to be good weather.”
Ferah said, “It’s been such a long winter that we need (this). We’re all out here in our spring jackets. We’re just pretending right now; we’re forcing summer, I think, and this is definitely a good kickoff.”
Her husband added, “It was such a hard winter, it’s great to get out and roll the windows down.”
Leslie Lusk of Topsham grew up in North Carolina, but moved to Maine four years ago with his wife, who hails from the Mid-coast region. His wife introduced him to Fat Boy, and he was hooked from the start. “I love this place,” he said.
Fat Boy’s appeal mixes a consistent menu with a heaping helping of nostalgia, such as the curb service that existed back in the 1950s, Lusk said. “Where I’m from, we had restaurants like this too, and they closed down,” he said. “I found this one and I said, ‘I’ve got to come back.’”
“I love the food,” Lusk continued. “I like the Barbecue Sandwich and the Whopper Burger,” the latter of which he devoured Thursday.
Lusk, like many other Fat Boy patrons who made the pilgrimage Thursday, said he follows Fat Boy on Facebook, which is where he saw Wednesday that the eatery would be open, “And I said, ‘Well I know where I’m going to be first thing tomorrow.’”
Freeport native Kelsey Matheson, 19 (turning 20 on Saturday) came with friend Tasha Sanders, 21, of Bath. Matheson attends the University of New Hampshire and said she will be staying there this summer, so this will probably be the only time she can go to Fat Boy.
Based on her monitoring of Fat Boy’s Facebook page, Matheson determined that about 550 people had confirmed they would open wide Thursday to help open Fat Boy.
“I’ve been coming to Fat Boy since I can remember, literally,” Sanders said. “I have so many memories, since my little cousins were younger; my grandparents and my aunt, I’ve usually been coming with them. But now that I have my own car, I can come by myself!”
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve been getting the hot dog basket, but I switched up to the lobster basket,” Sanders added. “It was a dilemma but I finally decided on the lobster roll basket,” and agreed it could be “a whole new world.”
Corbyn Owens, 3-and-a-half, came with his baby brother, his mom and her best friend to visit Fat Boy for the first time. His mom, Danielle Owens, 26, said the party — adorned in green — came to honor the memory of her grandfather, who died three years ago. She used to go to the drive-in as a child with her grandfather in his Cadillac and remembers how excited she was to see the waitresses on roller skates.
Danielle said the trio, who now live in Brunswick, moved back to Maine last April from Virginia. Corbyn is old enough to eat at Fat Boy, and was excited to be dining on a grilled cheese sandwich. Danielle and her best friend, Sara Coffin of Bowdoinham, ordered BLTs.
Sporting a “LUCKY AND CHARMING” shirt, Corbyn finally got the chance to stick his head out the sun roof of Coffin’s Jeep while waiting for their order. His mom said, “We are ready for spring. It’s beautiful. We’re ready for a good Maine summer. Go to the beach, and eat at Fat Boy almost every day.”
“I don’t know what it is about it that makes it so much fun,” Sanders said. “It’s good food, you get to be out in the weather, you get to sit in your car — yeah, classic. It’s definitely classic.”