Drive-in celebrates 20 years with an order of fundraisers

Wayne’s Drive-In marks two decades of serving food and fun from its 12-sided building at Five Corners with events to benefit area groups

IT’S BEEN 20 years since Wayne’s Drive-In at Five Corners in the Town of Cedarburg opened its doors, and the staff is celebrating with a host of fundraisers. Among the staff members at the restaurant are (top photo, from left) Rachel Gosselin, Rhaea Morgan, Mary Champeny, General Manager Steve Michalica, Ryan Commons, Jennifer Gelinskey and Kaley Gelinskey. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff


It’s been 20 years since Wayne’s Drive-In opened its doors at Five Corners in the Town of Cedarburg — and the restaurant is celebrating not with a party but with a plethora of community fundraising events.

“The community supports us, so we try to support the community,” said General Manager Steve Michalica. “Anything we’re doing for the 20th is being coordinated with a fundraiser.”

The fundraisers benefit everything from school groups and churches to animal rescue efforts, and they take on the air of a party with bounce houses, a disc jockey and hula hoop contests — a take on the restaurant’s retro theme.

“The kids just love it,” Michalica said of the hula hoop contests, which have been offered for 19 of the restaurant’s 20 years. “Even if they don’t know how to hula hoop, they try and just have a blast.”

One of the biggest fundraisers this season will benefit Mel’s Charities, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Wayne’s is running a “round up” campaign that started May 1 and will end July 31 with customers asked to round their bill up to the nearest dollar, with the change they would otherwise be given going to Mel’s.

“Our initial goal was $5,000,” Michalica said. “We’ve increased it to $10,000, the response has been so good.

“This community is very generous.”

It’s also been supportive of Wayne’s since it opened 20 years ago.

“Every year has been a record year for us,” Michalica said, with the exception of 2008 and 2009, when the recession hit.

He credits that success to two things.

“We’re all about fun and food — good food and a lot of family fun,” he said.

That emphasis has been there from the start.

Michalica has been part of Wayne’s from its start. He had been running bar-restaurants since 1979, had been running the Covered Bridge Inn on the adjoining property when he decided it was time to get out.

“I was done with bars,” he said. So he and his wife Mary Champeny decided to sell the property — he also owned the Wayne’s site — and  move to western Wisconsin.

 Wayne Houpt, president and owner of Suburban Motors in Thiensville, bought the properties and asked him, “If you were to stay here, what would you do with this?” Michalica recalled.

Houpt suggested an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant with a retro theme, and Michalica decided to stay.

The 12-sided building on the property, which was built with the intention of becoming a Harley-Davidson dealership by a Cedarburg businessman who didn’t get the franchise, was pretty nondescript, Michalica said, but Steve Jeske of Haag Müller Design drew up plans to convert the building into a 1950s-style drive in restaurant, complete with a cupola and tower topping it.

The building won a Top Small Project Award in 1999 from the Daily Reporter, a construction journal.

The interior of the building has that old-fashioned soda fountain feeling, complete with counter seating and red, white and blue decor.

Even the menu has a retro feeling, with the biggest sellers being their char-broiled burgers, shakes and malts.

When the business opened, carhops on skates helped complete the retro atmosphere, but in recent years they’ve been phased out.

“The demand got less and less,” Michalica said, noting people prefer eating at a table to dining in their car. “Some of them (the carhops) were phenomenal. They were doing tricks on their skates with food in their hands.”

With the demise of carhops, the restaurant added more tables inside and out, but that, in turn, meant removing the jukebox and pinball machine that added to the 50s feeling.

“This is a tiny place,” Michalica said, noting there are only about 32 seats inside. “Seating is definitely limited. We turn things over.”

On a busy day, he said, they serve about 1,200 customers in the 2,500-square-foot facility.

On average, he said, they serve about 500 people.

Special events, such as their Wednesday Corvette nights and Thursday classic car nights as well as their July Touch a Truck event that allows children to climb around on everything from fire trucks to large equipment, help draw people to the retro restaurant.

Classic car nights, drawn from Houpt’s love of vehicles, were their first big promotion, Michalica said.

“When we started, there weren’t a lot of these cruise nights around,” he said. “We get a lot of cool cars.”

The retro feeling of the restaurant may have drawn people to Wayne’s initially, Michalica said, but it’s the quality of the food that brings them back.

Wayne’s focuses on offering good food at a reasonable price, Michalica said, with most of its products coming from Wisconsin.

The restaurant’s customers are “everyone,” Michalica said. “We get a lot of families, people of every ages — everyone from those who can’t walk yet to those who have trouble walking.”

It’s a challenge to operate a seasonal restaurant, Michalica said.

Wayne’s is open from the first Monday in April until the second Sunday before Thanksgiving.

“People who have been coming here for years think we close on Labor Day,” he said.

But it’s particularly a challenge for staffing, he said, since most people are looking for year-round work.

The restaurant keeps a few staff members on year-round, Michalica said, but some of its workers, young and old, take on other jobs in winter and return to Wayne’s for the season.

There is one advantage, however, to being a seasonal restaurant, Michalica said, noting it gives workers a break.

“It’s a grueling business,” he said. “This gives us a chance to rejuvenate ourselves.”



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