The fate of Itâ€™s Drive-In Grill may be uncertain, but original owner Earl Elmore, 90, remembers its past quite clearly.
Following the shutdown of the restaurant earlier this month due to the recent ownersâ€™ failure to pay taxes, it remains to be seen what the future of the longtime staple of Lincoln Countyâ€™s restaurant industry will entail.
As the Times-News previously reported, the North Carolina Department of Revenue also closed Aunt Bessieâ€™s and Surfâ€™s Up Tanning, both located on North Aspen Street in Lincolnton. All three businesses were owned by Steve and Becky Gibson.
Elmore hopes this is not the end, however.
â€œI would love to see someone buy the place and preserve it,â€ he told the Times-News.
According to previous Times-News reports, Elmore opened Itâ€™s Grill, located on East Main Street in Lincolnton, in 1956, having also started Creamland Grill before then in 1947. He said he was â€œpoorâ€ and had â€œno education,â€ but he made $22 a week working in a mill and saved all but $2 weekly to open Creamland Grill.
He noted that whereas some kids he knew at the time were left money by their parents â€” adding that â€œsome made good; some didnâ€™tâ€ â€” he had to start from scratch.
â€œWe had to make it from nothing,â€ he stressed.
He eventually opened Itâ€™s Grill, while still operating Creamland, after building the drive-in and putting up the original neon sign.
â€œWe served good food and thatâ€™s what people wanted,â€ he said.
What really made the restaurant a success, said Elmore, was the â€œpoor boyâ€ sandwich. For 50 cents, customers could enjoy both the sandwich and some fries.
He noted that in supplying those much-desired fries, he went through 2,000 pounds of potatoes a week, all of which had to be peeled and cut. Additionally, he used between 60 and 100 pork shoulders per week.
Elmore later dabbled in other restaurant ventures, including a catering business named Pine Lodge. But now, years later, heâ€™s once again concerned with Itâ€™s and what will come of his former business.
â€œIt really hurts,â€ he said. â€œI could cry to think that a poor boy like me could open up something with no education.â€
Nonetheless, he is hopeful there is life in the once-thriving drive-in yet.
Former Times-News staff writer Martha Seagle contributed to this story.