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Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

November 11, 2009 at 1:27 AM

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On Veterans Day, I say thank you to Dick Spady, of Dick's drive-in

Posted by Gabriel Campanario

dick111009m.jpg

Nov. 10, 11:46 a.m. [Click on sketch to see it larger]

We can thank Dick Spady for all the burgers and milk shakes that we can enjoy at his drive-in restaurants in Wallingford, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Lake City and Queen Anne. But being Veterans Day, we should thank him for his service as well.

I met the founder of Seatte's most famous drive-in Tuesday. He drove his Audi station-wagon to the Wallingford restaurant, where I had just finished a couple of drawings. I sat in the passenger seat to do this sketch and listen to his story. People were already waiting for the drive-in to open at 10.30 a.m. The flow didn't stop the entire time I was there.

Dick served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 and with the Air Force during the Korean War, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During his WWII deployment in Japan he supervised three warehouses, and was in charge of storing and accounting for the food supply of more than 10,000 troops. "I learned a lot," he said. "I was only a 2nd lieutenant but I had more responsibility than a college graduate working for a corporation at the same entry level."

After his service, Dick, who grew up in Portland and is now 86, earned a degree in Business and Technology at Oregon State University in 1950. He explained that his minor in architecture helped when it came time to open the restaurant. For the sign, he first thought of a big rotating milk shake, but "that wouldn't do anything," he said. Instead, he chose the current design that still stands tall at N. 45th St.

That's where the first Dick's drive-in opened on January 28, 1954. The day after the restaurant opened there was a big snow storm, recalled Dick. "We spent two days shoveling snow." The restaurant in Capitol Hill opened in 1955. Drive-ins in Ballard, Lake City and Queen Anne, which opened in the 70s, followed.

He said that opening the drive-in was risky. Drive-ins were becoming popular in California, but "Seattle didn't have many cars and it rained a lot," he said.

But Dick's business philosophy has made the 55-year-old restaurant brand a favorite of Seattleites. He said that to build loyalty you have to offer "highest quality, fastest service and lowest price."

Dick shared a lot of interesting insights about running a business."Businesses have a responsibility to the common good," he said. He also told me about his book The Leadership of Civilization Building, and sent me a signed copy by courier later that afternoon. "To Gabi Campanario, The Seattle Times news artist, with warm appreciation, of your sketch of Dick's drive-in on Veterans Day 2009. Best wishes. Dick Spady."

After I stepped out of the car and Dick drove away, I joined the line of people at the drive-in and ordered a Dick's Deluxe, a first one for me.

Thanks for your service Dick, and for the burgers. You have earned another loyal customer.

Note: All day Wednesday, Dick's drive-ins are providing free burgers to veterans showing their military ID or in uniform.

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