If you stop by Cranwill’s Drive-In in Pekin, the food is only part of the experience.
“They order it. They get it the way they want it,” said Kirk Cranwill, the co-owner of Cranwill’s Drive-In.
The curbside service is a long-standing tradition at the restaurant.
“We still have car hops because their aren’t very many drive-ins left,” he said.
Kirk and his sister, Carla have owned the business since 1996.
“It took some planning. It was pretty scary to do,” Kirk laughed. “But we did it.”
Cranwill’s originally started in the 1940’s as an A&W in Pekin. In 1969, Don and Joanne Cranwill bought the franchise. Their children, Kirk and Carla took on the business in the mid-90’s and in 2002, they dropped the A&W name. That’s when Cranwill’s Drive-in was born.
Kirk said, “There’s people that come in here. That worked here in the 50’s for the other owners. That’s neat. They’ll be sitting right there where you’re at and they’ll say I was a car hop here for Champion in 1958 or whatever.”
The ownership changes at Cranwill’s have posed challenges from having to re-brand to dealing with the restaurant’s original equipment.
“There’s specialized equipment that—because there’s not a big demand anymore, a lot of the manufacturers are out of business,” said Kirk.
But even with the challenges that come about, Kirk says it’s high energy that keeps the team working hard.
He said, “Everybody is jamming. Everybody is focused and then we have a lot of fun.”
The last day of the season for Cranwill’s Drive-In is Sunday.