Ending summer at John’s Drive-In
Published 12:00 pm Sunday, September 29, 2019
What if there was a restaurant you could walk to straight from the beach and get fresh, local seafood at a great price? Good news! There is. John’s Drive-In has been serving fresh dolphin, yellowfin tuna, crab cakes and huge Angus beef burgers for 42 years. Located right on the beach road in Kitty Hawk, John’s has become a staple for vacationers, locals and every kind of pet you could think of.
Back in 1977, John Tice Sr. (“Big John”) and his wife Pat purchased a small plot of land right off the beach in the Outer Banks. A big change from their original home in Pittsburg, Pa. Along with their three children Ramona, John Jr. (“Little John”) and Tina, John Sr. and Pat opened the restaurant that now serves up to a thousand people per day in the summertime.
The kids spent their days at the restaurant when they were not at school. “We went to school, came home and we did our homework on top of the freezers,” said “Little John” Tice. Tice now runs the restaurant with kids of his own. Tina and Ramona run their own businesses, but help with the restaurant whenever they can. “Mom and dad wanted us to take care of each other and look out for one another. We’re very old-fashioned Outer Banks that way,” Tice explained.
The concept behind the drive-in was to feed everyone who came and provide a place for them to stay if they needed it. The menu was created by John Sr. who had 30 years of prior restaurant experience. Pat was a master at concocting recipes to go with the main dishes. Tice said, “The thing that makes John’s is my mother’s tartar sauce.” The recipe is older than Pat herself. She learned how to cook from a couple in Frisco who ran the pier when she was young.
The food served at John’s is all made-to-order. A fan-favorite is their 10.6 oz. Angus beef burger. “We weren’t allowed to have dates on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays because we had to make burgers,” Tice laughed as he remembered nights preparing food. The secret to their burgers is using cheddar cheese instead of American cheese. They also use a harder, toasted specialty roll.
Tice’s favorite items on the menu are the Rajin’ Cajun Crab and the Chocolate Cherry milkshake. He came up with the milkshake flavor back when he was young. Customers can now create any kind of milkshake flavor they wish. “For a moment it’s like you’re in Willy Wonka’s factory because you can create whatever you want,” he said. Tice wanted to make it fun for the kids, so every milkshake comes with a big, colorful straw.
John’s Drive-In not only serves milkshakes to their regular customers; they also make treats for pets of all shapes and sizes. “We always have something for the pets. If we don’t have it, we will find something and figure it out,” Tice said. In the past, people have brought their dogs, horses, monkeys, ducks and even a pet penguin. The pictures around the outside of the building showcase almost every animal that has walked up to the window of John’s Drive-In.
Almost everything in the restaurant is the same as the day they started the business. The kitchen has all the original sinks and ventilation hoods. The house that Ramona, “Little John” and Tina grew up in is still standing. The dream of “Big John” and Pat is still alive and well. “When you come to John’s, you come to relax, eat and just enjoy the view,” Tice said.
John’s Drive-In closed for the season Sunday, Sept. 22. They will reopen around Easter to serve lunch just like they have for the past 43 summers.
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