The late Otto Burgner opened a memorable eatery about 1954 at 925 W. Market that he dubbed the Dutch Maid Drive-In. It quickly became a favorite of locals and handled the culinary needs of the area for 31 years.


I became a regular of the popular spot, driving my dad’s 1954 blue and white Chevy there. A cruise through its parking lot on Friday or Saturday evenings revealed a crowded parking lot full of 50s cars of every make and price. Those were the days of thirty-five cent hamburgers, dime soft drinks and dollar fried shrimp platters.

One notable food item on the menu was “Pizza Pie,” which Burgner is credited for pioneering for area restaurants. His “pie,” which he alleged to be the best tasting in the area, contained seven different cheeses. He also introduced the “Jumbo Burger,” while other restaurants were still dispensing small hamburgers.

Over time, the Dutch Maid ran the gamut from a popular teenage hangout to a well-liked senior adult morning gathering place. The end came at precisely 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 24, 1985. Demolition crews soon began methodically razing the once popular hangout to make room for another business.

Johnson City Press-Chronicle writers, Brad Jolly and Tina Hilton Chudina, covered in two separate articles the demise and destruction of the long-standing restaurant. The closing was a solemn occasion for Otto that brought back 31 years of mostly pleasant memories, which he related to Ms. Hilton in an interview shortly before the restaurant closed:

“Boys used to come and sit to watch girls and girls used to come and sit to watch boys. I’ve made a lot of friends here; it’s like losing part of the family. You just don’t walk out of a place like this without fond memories. Many married couples that come here today met here years ago. A lot of local doctors and lawyers that used to come here when they were kids now bring their families here. Times have certainly changed haven’t they? Competition was tough back then when there were several area restaurants that offered similar food such as the Dixie Drive-In, the Spot No. 1 and the Texas Steer Drive-In. I can remember when kids used to circle those three places. They had traffic blocked from here to the light at Market and Hillcrest streets. Business is still good, but the time has come for me to close.”

In latter years, the Dutch Maid’s hours were reduced to only breakfast and lunch. One of the trademarks of the place was the relaxed friendly atmosphere; people would eat breakfast there or just drink coffee and end up staying all morning.


Brad Jolly experienced the shock of seeing the rubble of the old restaurant: “I should have been prepared for it since we ran an article that it was going to happen. I just didn’t think it was going to be so soon. But Monday as I rode with a couple of colleagues to lunch, I saw the partially decimated Dutch Maid building. Bricks were scattered in the parking lot and gaping holes in the walls let harsh sunlight into the former dining room, the site of countless biscuit and gravy breakfasts and leisurely conversations. The unique décor with its wall-mounted stuffed fish and animals was now a mere memory. The loafers who used to kill time there over multiple cups of coffee were elsewhere, presumably wandering the city in a daze, cut loose from their familiar morning meeting ground.”

The Dutch Maid Drive-In became yet another trendy relic of yesteryear that appeared on the local scene, performed its job admirably and then quietly vanished, leaving behind only warm reminiscences. 

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In the mid 1960s, I became acquainted with George and Mary Parker, owners of the Dixie Drive-In Restaurant at 425 E. Main and occasional patrons of Frick’s Music Mart, where I had a part-time job. This restaurant was always one of my favorites, mainly because of their hamburgers with that special tasting sauce.

Top: The Dixie in the 1920s, Bottom: The restaurant in the 1950s

Jean Lewis, former writer for the Press-Chronicle, interviewed the couple just prior to their closing the restaurant in 1972 and gleaned 42 years of mouthwatering memories from them. The Parkers opened the popular eatery on Sept. 30, 1930 and are credited with pioneering curb service in Johnson City. This amenity allowed folks the luxury of eating inside their vehicles.

The husband and wife team acquired the novel idea after visiting a relative in Washington, DC, where curb service restaurants were already established and doing a flourishing business. After stopping at several drive-ins, they liked what they saw and decided to offer the same service in Johnson City. This was a gutsy venture considering the fact that the country was in the midst of a depression.

Mr. Parker related how the two of them pursued the dicey concept equipped with a bold dream, $85 cash, a bank loan, some scrap lumber and the assistance of some teenage boys. That initial effort produced a 12 x 20 foot structure that bore the name Dixie Barbecue.

According to Mrs. Parker: “We grossed $6 on our first day of business. We didn’t advertise or anything; people just came in. It happened that the Appalachian Tri-State Fair was in operation that day, located where the Municipal Building now sits.”

The first year would prove to be a difficult one, causing the entrepreneurs to wonder if they had done the right thing: “One day,” said Mrs. Parker, “it was so bad and snowy with no customers in sight that we decided to just close down and give up. About that time, a man came in and gave us six takeout orders. From that time on, we never entertained the thought of quitting.” The couple confessed to working seven days a week while caring for two nephews.

The Parkers were quite proud that so many youngsters, principally boys, worked there over the years: “Most of those who worked here as curb hops went on to make outstanding businessmen. We couldn’t begin to name them all, but there are those who became lawyers, architects, ministers and realtors.” The building literally expanded eight and ten feet at a time as the business grew in popularity, all the while maintaining a comfortable and affordable atmosphere conducive to family dining.

The Parkers cite one memorable event from May 1944 when three homesick GIs stationed in England painted a sign on a ballpark fence using foot-high letters and sent the Parkers a picture of it. It read: “Eat at Dixie Bar-B-Q – Home of Delicious Hamburgers, Johnson City.” The photo identified two of the three soldiers as Gale Cox and Cone Dixon, both former curb hops at the Dixie. The restaurant owners prominently displayed it in the foyer of their business for several years. The valued picture abruptly vanished one day after five busloads of students from Kingsport descended on the restaurant following a football game with their archrival, Science Hill High School. Fortunately, the picture was later recovered.

Mrs. Parker concluded the 1972 interview by saying: “It breaks our hearts to leave the business world of Johnson City, but it’s time we thought of our health and the future.”  

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Several folks responded to my Biff-Burger column, revering the tasty little saucy burgers to this day.

William Dyer replied first: “I read with interest your recent column about the Biff-Burger once located on (West) Market Street. I suppose it was appealing to me because my nickname is ‘Biff’ and to this day some people still call me ‘Biff-Burger.’ My mother tells me that I did not derive my name from the well-known eatery; instead, she got her brilliant idea from a popular soap opera star, Biff McGuire, on ‘Another World.’ I can only picture my beautiful mother, Ruby Evelyn, sitting in front of her black and white TV, devouring a delicious roto-broiled hamburger with 27 secret spices, watching some suave ladies’ man make his move on a poor unsuspecting damsel.”

Harriet Baker dropped me this note: “You will probably be delighted to know that our employee, Jim Nave, was a former manager of Biff-Burger and has the recipe in his brain. One of the points that he made was that the meat patties have to be really thin and the buns toasted. Jim made them for SHHS graduates at a picnic a couple of years ago; maybe we could get him to cook some for lunch one day.” 

Bill Durham offered this correspondence: “Thanks to your column, I've been craving a Biff-Burger since 6:30 this morning. I can still think about them and my taste buds go into overdrive. Thanks for reminding me of yet another intangible I long for but can no longer have.  We've lost so much of what we used to take for granted, haven't we?”

Bill Ledford submitted this most welcomed news: “I thought you might enjoy knowing that the Biff-Burger is still in St. Petersburg, Florida.  I am also an old fan of that great burger and plan on stopping by for one shortly when we go to Florida.”  

After receiving Ledford’s note, I contacted my second cousin, Jean Moore, who lives in St. Petersburg and beseeched her to find the place and consume a Biff-Burger. When Jean drove to the establishment, she immediately recognized the distinctive architecture: “Most of the employees were too young to remember when the restaurant was in its heyday. However, one old timer did, fondly recalling the 1950s business. I went to the order window and glanced at their huge menu. I quickly spotted ‘Biff’ as the first item of several charbroiled burger selections. The price of the Biff has increased from the half-century ago price of 15 cents to 99 cents. I was not sure it was the same burger I remembered, but I was about to find out. I placed my order for a Biff and waited patiently. Unlike the original restaurants, this one did not allow me to see the burger being prepared. I held my breath hoping that I would not be disappointed.”

Jean said she knew it was the real thing just by observing the petite patty on a sesame seed bun and smelling the tantalizing spicy aroma. She confirmed her suspicions when she munched into it. She said for a few brief pleasurable moments, it was like stepping back into the 1950s.

I will feature the remembrances of former Johnson City Biff-Burger manager, Jim Nave, in a future column. 

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The dense and overgrown lot at the northeast corner of Johnson Avenue and Knob Creek Road once contained one of the best blackberry patches in the vicinity.

The area was also my summer lair where I could vanish into a momentary world of peace and quiet. In 1956, much to my chagrin, this field became the residence of the George McCroskey family. George soon opened a new fast-food restaurant with the curious name of Biff- (acronym for “Best in Fast Food”) Burger at 1000 W. Market Street, about one block west of the old Pepsi Cola Plant.

The food chain originated in Florida in the mid-1950s, eventually providing investors with a prefabricated “Port-A-Unit” structure that contained the necessary apparatus needed to operate the new-fangled business. The restaurant later had a distinctive “W” shaped roofline containing a series of red, blue and yellow elongated diamonds along the middle front.

As I recall, there were no inside dining facilities or drive-thru provisions at the Johnson City business. The food chain was in close proximity to our house, allowing me to quickly pedal my bicycle there to purchase carryout food from their diminutive menu that included … Broiled Burgers 19¢, Cheese Burgers 24¢, Golden French Fries 14¢, Chicken ‘n Box $1.00, Shrimp and French Fries $1.00 and Thick Milk Shakes 19¢.

I generally ordered a burger, fries and a drink, occasionally plunking down an extra nickel to embellish my meat patty with a slice of American cheese. After munching down my very first Biff-Burger, I became captivated by the distinctive taste. What made these unique tasting burgers so delectable?

The enterprise utilized a “Roto-Broiler,” a small patented dual rack metal rotisserie. Its immediate success was rooted in a two-step process for cooking its signature product. The top rack, containing infrared heat coils above and below it, allowed about three or four 100% ground beef patties to cook evenly on both sides as it slowly rotated clockwise from left to right through the unit. Hot juices from the meat dripped onto the open-faced sesame seed buns on the rotating rack below, capturing the full taste of the burgers.

After a few minutes, the meat and buns concurrently exited the right side of the rotisserie, fully cooked and ready for a refreshing dip in the hot tomato sauce containing 27 secret spices. The product was then placed onto a hot bun, after which the order was fully assembled and dispensed to the impatient hungry customer. 

The operation appeared anything but high tech, but it worked to sheer perfection.The restaurant’s intent was to be more functional than aesthetic, focusing on what people wanted – reasonably priced tasty food. Patrons could observe the entire operation as their order slowly traversed the broiler. Watching the burger cook and being assembled was almost as enjoyable as consuming the broiled treat.

By the early 1960s, the Biff-Burger sizzle began to fizzle; most restaurants were sold to another fast-food franchise, Burger King. The sole survivor is a Greensboro, NC restaurant bearing the slightly altered name, Beef Burger.

The little flavorful saucy sesame bun burger might have rotated into that big rotisserie in the sky, but it is forever embedded in the taste bud memories of many area residents.  

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When Jack Harrison, former Washington County commissioner, passed away earlier this year, his obituary notice made reference to his being a member of the Friday Night Fish Gang, obviously something that had been very important to him.

The Fish Gang at the Firehouse Restaurant in Johnson City

I remember this gang; my uncle and late aunt, Ray and Hazel Reaves, were a part of this select group from its earliest beginnings. I asked Ray to tell me how this congenial assemblage got started. He predictably responded by inviting me to join them at one of their weekly eat-togethers. Ray said they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their club this year:

“People often ask me how we got such a name. In 1955, several of us couples began meeting from 6:00 until about 7:30 every Friday night at the old Broadway Restaurant, on the Kingsport/Bristol highway, for their weekly fish night. “Our group got started pretty much by accident when two couples started eating out together. They soon invited others to join them and before we knew it, we had grown to twenty-eight people, all couples.”

Ray credits the late Harold and Irene Mahoney for getting the weekly seafood feast off the ground: “Harold was so committed to the event that he cautioned the members not to make any plans for Friday nights. I can remember only about eight or ten times that we failed to get together.”

Ray recalled some of the other participants through the years, several of whom are deceased: “There were Reece and Helen Sell, Aldon and Betty Speer, Jack and Dottie Harrison, Raymond and Martha Miller, Boyd and Carrie Jones, Estel and June Fair, Fred and Evelyn Moore, Harry and Nora Cook and several others.”

Ray said that most of the members over the years have been members of the First United Methodist Church of Johnson City. A former pastor of this church, Reverend Frank Settle and wife, Jean, once regularly participated in the Friday night offerings. Tragically, he was killed in an automobile accident.

Ray continued: “We were at the Broadway Restaurant for about ten years until they closed. For several years, we ate at various establishments around town, including Spot No. 2. We assigned someone to find us a place for our next meal. At first, all we ate was fish. Although we still called ourselves the Friday Night Fish Gang, we gradually began ordering individually off the menu.”

Ray said the organization has patronized only one eatery for the last few years: “Eventually, we began eating at the Firehouse Restaurant on Walnut Street, and that is where we meet today.”

The group has diminished from twenty-eight regulars to seven: Ray, Martha Miller, Aldon and Betty Speer, Evelyn Moore and Harry and Nora Cook. Ray laughingly remarked: “We don’t seem to have as much to talk about as we used to.” In their 50-year existence, the current charter members have individually consumed up to about 2600 “fish night” meals. That is a lot of eating.

With dwindling numbers, this half-century old club would appear to be munching its way into the sunset, but don’t tell that to this diminutive and devoted group. The Friday Night Fish Gang’s committed presence each week suggests that they have no thoughts of going away anytime soon. Happy birthday, gang.  

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Recently, I stopped at a red light in downtown Johnson City at 105 Buffalo Street, opposite the former location of the old city bus terminal. I could almost smell the tantalizing mouth-watering aroma of hot dogs wafting through the air.

Dwarfed between two large buildings (one dated 1888), this diminutive hole-in-the-wall carryout eatery was known as John’s Sandwich Shop, owned and operated by John Buda. He opened it about 1950. Previous occupants at this Buffalo Street address included W. Williams Confectioner (1923), Red “J” Taxi Company (1928), John J. Kalogeros Restaurant (1937), Alexandra Kalogeros Restaurant (1941), Joe Chester Variety Store (1944), and George’s Chili and Sandwich Shop (1948).


John and brothers, Alex and Charles, immigrated to this country from Albania after the turn of the century, each sibling pursing a career in the food services business. I personally knew this family. John and his wife, Ethel, and their two children, George and Ann, lived in the same apartment complex as my family in the 1940s, the elder Budas’ occasionally being my baby-sitters.

Buda offered his customers a variety of sandwiches, but it was his hot dogs that, even today, evoke such pleasant memories by the populace. John targeted those hungry yet busy people who preferred to take their food home or to their work site, as opposed to dining at a sit down café. For this reason, the numerous downtown restaurants offered little competition for the entrepreneur.

I cannot explain why John’s franks were so good; there appeared to be nothing secret about their preparation. Whatever the cooks did to them, it worked. After placing my order at one of the two windows, the attendant immediately plopped a steamed hot dog onto an equally steamed bun, garnished it with chili, mustard, and an abundant of finely ground onions, and topped it off with a heavy dose of salt from an oversized metal saltshaker. Finally, the delicacy was carefully wrapped in thick white paper, placed inside a brown paper bag, and dispensed through the window. The congenial restaurateur always thanked his customers in his heavy Albanian accent.

Area folks marveled how Buda could manage so much business from such a small building. It was not necessary for him to advertise; his scrumptious food effectively promoted itself. It was not unusual for a patron to order a dozen or more hot dogs at a time, perhaps feeding a business office or a family at home.

After more than ten years of continuous operation, John’s business served its last meal and closed its door and two windows, bringing much sadness to Johnson Citians. When John died in 1962, he left a huge void in the hearts and stomachs of his many faithful patrons. Gone, except in our memories, were the culinary delights from John’s Sandwich Shop, a small operation that could proudly boast of producing absolutely the best tasting hot dogs in town.

If you can provide additional information about John’s Sandwich Shop, please drop me a note. 

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