Resident honored for ‘curbie’ time

Nick Stroman

Shirla Thomas Joos of Washington was recently recognized for her great curbside service as a waitress at a popular East Peoria drive-in.

Oddly enough, the recognition happens to be about 50 years after she hung up her apron and the drive-in has long since closed its doors.

In the 1950s, Chick’s Drive-In sat at the corner of Springfield Road and Washington Street and proved to be a popular hangout for teenagers and families in Central Illinois.

Joos said her uncle was a cook at Chick’s and told the owners she was his daughter so she could be hired on.

“I was only 14 years old, so I was technically too young to have the job. He promised to take me to and from work every day and night,” Joos said.

Joos was hired to work as a “curbie,” or a waitress who would come out and deliver meals to the customers seated in their vehicles.

Joos said balancing the trays of food took lots of practice and she only had one spill in her years there.

“I was trying to get the tray to attach to the window and I had it under control, but the customer tried to help me and the four root beer floats dumped and went everywhere. I would have been fine without his help, so that one was not my fault,” Joos said with a laugh.

Joos said she was paid 35 cents per hour as a “curbie” and if a person worked inside, it was 50 cents.

“If we got a 25 cent tip, that was good money too,” Joos said.

Joos said the wait staff was mostly made up of girls until the owner decided to mix it up and hire boy “curbies.”

“He said us girls wanted too much time off,” Joos said with a laugh.

Joos said the menu prices at Chick’s in those days were pretty unbelievable compared to today’s crop of fast food places.

Hamburgers were 30 cents or four for $1. Fries were 20 cents. Drinks in frosted glasses were 5 or 10 cents. Root beer floats were 15 or 20 cents. A meal of chicken, fries and a drink was only $1.25.

“I think we were most famous for the tenderloins though. They were pounded out and hand breaded every day and we sold a lot of them for just 40 cents a piece,” Joos said.

Joos said although the prices were cheap, the owners never skimped on quality for the food or utensils.

“We didn’t do plastic or Styrofoam. Everything was in real soup bowls, real plates and real glasses,” Joos said.

“Chick’s always believed in doing everything the hard way for the benefit of the customer. They had to hand wash all those dishes too,” Joos added.

Joos said another business opened around the time of Chick’s heyday and the staff joked it would not be a success.

“It was Davis Bros. Pizza and that was the first pizza I ever tasted. It was different for around here at the time and we thought it would never go over well,” Joos said.

“Boy, were we wrong,” Joos added with a laugh.

Joos said Chick’s close location to the WEEK studios on Springfield Road, where it still sits today, meant it was not uncommon to see some of the on-air personalities partaking in the drive-in delights.

“For anyone that’s as old as me (71 years old), I remember Houli, Salty Sam and Captain Jinx coming down there all the time to eat. They weren’t celebrities to us, just regular folk that happened to be repeat customers,” Joos said.

Joos said she left Chick’s after graduating from high school and moving away to attend Illinois State University.

Years later, Joos said Chick’s owner Bob Burton would end up tearing down her grandparents’ home on Gold Street and opening a new restaurant.

Several customers and a surviving member of the original owner Bob Burton’s family recently acknowledged Joos’ fast and friendly customer service with a unique plaque.

The award includes a 1949 Chevy pickup horn button mounted on it, as a tribute from a customer who actually carved Joos’ initials into his horn to remind him of which “curbie” to honk at for the best service.

“It was just a really fun place to work and a fun time in my life, but I would never expect an award for it. It’s a little embarrassing,” Joos said.

Joos said her granddaughter recently took her for a trip to Sonic Drive-in and it brought back some memories of Chick’s.

“I heard their ‘curbies’ are on skates some days though and I think that might be tricky,” Joos said.

“Our parking lot was not paved,” Joos added, with a laugh.