They say everyone remembers their first time, but I’m a bit blurry on the dates. It was in the Philippines. It was a Saturday or Sunday. It was the mid-60’s, so I was probably in junior high. It was in the boonies…
It was my first visit to an American-style, fast food restaurant: an A & W drive-in. To get there, we drove in our Galaxy 500XL convertible (top down, of course) about a half hour, which I thought was a long way to go just to eat.
But when we arrived, I could see that this was a restaurant like no other I‘d ever seen before. We stayed in the car to order and eat. Waitresses in short skirts roller skated out with the food. The root beer, served in an ice cold mug, was delicious! A different dining experience and so of course it had a certain appeal.
Why am I mentioning this? This month marks the 90th anniversary of A & W root beer. And if you read the A & W “history” the Philippines gets a mention: In 1963 “the first overseas A&W restaurant opened it’s doors. Located in Guam, the international division quickly expanded to the Philippines.” (But since Guam is a U.S. territory, while it may be “overseas” it certainly is not “international” and so the Philippines is technically A &W’s first international location.)
There were few American fast food restaurants in the Philippines when I was growing up. Besides the A & W, there was a KFC. It was owned by the father of a friend of mine. And in true Philippine fashion, he buttered both sides of his business bread because he also owned the chicken farm which was the source of the Colonel’s best. (Strangely, I never ate there.)
Fast food was not something I grew up with. Like all teens, I enjoyed a good burger. But it was not McDonald’s or Burger King. Often, it was a “homemade” burger at the private club my family belonged to or in a “sit down” restaurant where there were many other items to choose from.
Same with pizza. There was no Pizza Hut. There were some places I went to that had good pizza, but they had more than pizza. (And free peanuts, to my recollection.) And of course, we could enjoy that pizza with a beer since, as I noted in an earlier post, money (not age) determined whether you could drink (or do just about anything else you wanted to) in the Philippines.
One reason I think that the Philippines did not have many fast food restaurants is that fast eating was not in sync with the local eating mores. A meal was not something to wolf down; it was taken slowly. There was conversation.
Dining was a form of relaxation, not a chore to be accomplished in the same time frame as a visit to a bathroom for that equally required “necessity.” After all, the Philippines was a Spanish colony for some three hundred years and a fast meal is not the Spanish custom. (I certainly enjoyed the enforced two to three hour lunches in Spain during our visit there, when just about everything closed and your non-dining options were very limited.)
So when I arrived in the States, I was taken aback by the proliferation of all manner of fast food restaurants. And while they have their advantages, they are still not a favorite of mine. (I did succumb to the American dining hour of about 6 PM, rather than between 7 and 8 PM when I lived in the Philippines.)
After almost disappearing, A & W seems to be making a limited comeback although they are now indoors. There’s one in the Festival Bay Mall in Orlando on International Drive. I saw another one in another Florida mall I can’t recall.
For a near A & W experience, there’s the Sonic in my hometown. You can order and eat from the car, although they don’t skate out. Besides, I prefer to get out of the car and eat on a table like a civilized person. Unfortunately, Sonic doesn’t have any of that A & W root beer. (I can, and do, get it in the can but my favorite root beer is IBC, which only comes in a bottle.) And instead of a burger, I prefer the foot long chili dog, followed by a walk of nutritional penance around a lake (actually a holding pond in disguise) across the street.
So if there happens to be an A&W near you, this month is a good time to visit. Although there’s an A & W store locator by zip code on the their website, it didn’t work for me. Try this visual map of U.S. locations (but I can’t vouch that it’s up to date).
If not, a Sonic is close enough. Enjoy!