By Kurt Batdorf SCBJ Editor
“We want Dick’s! We want Dick’s!” the crowd of about 1,000 hungry, enthusiastic customers chanted.
Thea Miklasiewicz, 54, of Edmonds, w as first in line. She arrived at 3:20 a.m. Oct. 20 for the honor, saying she’s been a fan of Dick’s burgers since childhood.
“When I was a child, my dad used to come home with 20 Dick’s burgers every Wednesday night,” she said. “There were five of us kids. We always looked forward to Wednesdays.”
She was going to do like her father did, and bring home a bunch of Dick’s burgers to feed her son and his friends.
Kirsten Holm of Everett has been going to Dick’s since she was 6 years old. Now 48, she drives to Seattle two or three times a month — ‘‘sometimes more” — to satisfy her Dick’s burger hunger.
“It’s kind of a drive,” she admitted.
Now Holm and other Snohomish County fans of the beloved drive-in no longer have to burn gas going to Seattle to satisfy their craving for what many people consider the best cheap hamburger around.
Standing patiently in line before ceremonies to mark the restaurant’s opening, Holm said she would order a Dick’s Deluxe burger, fries, two tartar sauces and a chocolate shake. When she got her order and cleared the jammed counter, she was grinning from ear to ear.
The opening of the sixth Dick’s Drive-In has been a long time coming.
The first Dick’s opened in Seattle’s Wallingford District on NE 45th Street in 1954. Other outlets followed in 1955, 1960 and 1963 in north Seattle neighborhoods. Dick’s opened its fifth restaurant near the Seattle Center in 1974.
The three partner families decided then that they wouldn’t open another restaurant until they paid off their debt, said Jim Spady, a son of founder and namesake Dick Spady. The Spady family bought out the other partners about 20 years ago, then the flagship restaurant in Wallingford needed remodeling.
Jim Spady, Dick’s vice president, said expansion had long been planned, once the debts from the buyout and the Wallingford remodel were paid off. It all started coming together in 2010, thanks to low interest rates, a good contractor and the willingness to build again.
“You have to have the courage to take on a lot to expand,” Spady said.
An online customer poll last year pointed the Spadys’ expansion north, beating spots south and east of Seattle. They negotiated with the Haggen family to buy a corner in front of Top Food and Drug on Highway 99 at 220th Street SW.
The chanting crowd that filled the cordoned-off parking lot certainly seemed happy with the Spadys’ decision to build in Edmonds.
Ron Schmeer, Dick’s vice president of community affairs and a nephew of Dick Spady, surveyed the crowd just before the order windows opened. How long would it take to fill everyone’s order?
“Oh, gee. An hour? More?” he said.
It turns out he was right. On Facebook, Dick’s customers reported waits of an hour or more to get their orders, but most posters seemed to be excited they got to make an order at Dick’s on opening day.
Since that last happened in 1974, it’s probably something that most of the crowd had never experienced.
The first day’s sales came just 120 burgers shy of beating Dick’s all-time sales record. Hourly records for burgers sold and total sales were smashed. Schmeer noted that the new Edmonds restaurant was open for five fewer hours than a normal day.
“I was standing in line when someone started throwing bags of burgers from the counter. One hit me in the chest, so I said, ‘I’m out of here!’ ” Jeff Lageson of Edmonds said as he took the last bite of a free cheeseburger. “I’ll come back later tonight when the crowds die down.”
Edmonds Dick’s first full day of operation on Oct. 21 saw fans consume more burgers in a single day at a single Dick’s in the company’s history, breaking the record by more than 30 percent.
“We knew that Friday would be a big day since we would be open for the full 15 1/2 hours, but we didn’t think it would be that big — breaking the all-time record by over 30 percent,” Spady said.
If the Edmonds Dick’s looks familiar, it should. It’s an exact replica of the flagship Wallingford Dick’s, Spady said.
The Edmonds restaurant will employ 35 people who will earn more than their peers at other fast-food joints, Spady said. Starting pay is $9.50 an hour and jumps to $10 an hour after 90 days. Dick’s pays 100 percent of employee health insurance and offers college scholarships worth up to $22,000.
“My parents are big believers in education,” Spady said. “We’ve had some pretty bright people come through our restaurants.”
Paying employees well and providing valuable benefits reduces turnover and creates a “virtuous cycle that reflects our family’s values,” Spady said.
As one of 13 winners in a Dick’s online contest, Rowland Morgan, 43, of Ballard, was the first customer to place an order. He called himself a lifelong Dick’s customer and always went to the Wallingford or Lake City Dick’s near his high school.
“As soon as you got your driver’s license, you’d skip school and go to Dick’s for lunch,” he said.
It’s been Morgan’s habit ever since.
He placed his usual order: Dick’s Deluxe, cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake. As usual, he wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s what it’s like every time,” he said.
Chris Carothers of Brier was overjoyed to be one of the first customers to get his order of eight Dick’s Deluxes, a Dick’s Special, two shakes and three sodas for his waiting friends.
“It’s glorious!” Carothers declared.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, email@example.com.