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Short's Rootbeer Stand recognized as Michigan's best

Jan 28, 2024

COLDWATER — Short's Rootbeer Drive-In in Coldwater appeared this month on the list of "The Best Drive-In Restaurant in Every State," representing Michigan.

Ted Short, who bought it with his family in 2013 said, "This was an honor" when he found his business on the list with some of the most famous drive-ins from around the country.

The iconic drive-in started 57 years ago as a B-K Rootbeer drive-in at 378 West Chicago, with its April opening seen as the first sign of spring in the city.

Mashed is a multi-platform publication dedicated to the folks who enjoy eating.

The review praises Shorts as "A staple in Coldwater, Michigan, that satisfies any taste and any craving. From handmade patties and breaded chicken to house-smoked pork and tenderloin sandwiches, all with house-made ranch ... but nothing beats a root beer float."

The stand with 18 spots for cars under the orange canopy was built in the late 1960s as a franchise B-K Rootbeer stand by Lee and Dorothy Witmyer.

Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. through October, Shorts features car hop service with frosted glass mugs of root beer. Turn on your blinker to summon one.

Short said they employ 15 girls.

"Probably 80% of them are high school kids that are coming back every year," he said.

There is a waiting list for the job.

Short said to turn out the foods take between 15 to 20 cooks.

Mid-century cars drive in during the annual Coldwater Mother's Day weekend Swap Meet and Car Show. That weekend along with the Old U.S. 12 Tour in August and on the Fourth of July, the carhops wear Poodle skirt outfits to add to the nostalgia.

The food remains the same with some additions. Vegan ice cream is on the menu with regular Moosville flavors.

The servers now take orders on an electronic pad instead of paper. But the meals still come on window trays.

Many come by on their way to the Capri Drive-In theater three miles further west.

Short said of the 40 drive-ins still in Michigan, he believes Coldwater is the only one with a drive-in theater nearby.

Bernie and Bev Allen bought the drive-in in 1980. They dropped the B-K franchise, and it became Allen's Rootbeer. In 1994 son Greg Allen and his wife Laura took over.

Short said of his purchase, "It was really my dad's idea. We’ve always wanted to own a restaurant."

The family sold the family business TJ Rampit.

"We were financially okay to do it. It was the most intriguing restaurant in town to buy we thought," Short said.

The company employees ate there. So did Ted starting as a kid. "I’m a big hot dog fan," he said.

Short's dad died in 2012. His Mom fell ill, and they looked at a house in Michigan for her near the drive-in. Short saw the drive-in was for sale. That night by chance, Greg Allen called and left him a message.

The Shorts took possession in February, 2013.

The business remains a family affair as it always had been with prior owners. Short's daughter Allison, an education senior at Trine University, and her mom, Amy, manage the drive-in along with Genesis Herbert.

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One thing unchanged is the original orange B-K colors. The chain started in 1940 in Michigan City, Indiana, and at its peak, it had 238 franchises in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.

For those who can't find a spot, there is always take-out.

---Contact Don Reid: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DReidTDR