Johnnie’s Drive-In: A Tupelo classic that keeps customers coming back

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – The restaurant business is one of the toughest to succeed in.

Only about one in five restaurants survive long term.

One Tupelo restaurant beat the odds and is proof that great food, stellar employees, and a simple style are recipes for success.

It’s the lunch rush at Johnnie’s Drive-In and Craig White is busy taking customers’ orders as they drive into the parking lot.

Craig White and his wife Christi White bought the East Tupelo restaurant from Christi’s Dad in 2020. He bought the restaurant in 1980 from the original owner, John Chism, who opened the small diner in 1945.

From the beginning, the menu and the setting were simple. Not much has changed in 78 years, including the most popular menu item.

“Your dough burger, that’s the number one selling thing.”

The dough burgers, also known as Johnnie Burgers, are made the same way in the kitchen and are still a great bargain.

“During the Depression, they put flour, and water with the meat to make it go farther. Mr John Chism built a business out of it.”

Early on, the business had one regular who went on to become a star.

“Elvis ate here as a child, he would come over here, get a dough burger and an RC Cola. ”

Right before he became a household name, Elvis visited Johnnie’s Drive-In during a trip to Tupelo. That visit was captured in a black-and-white photograph. Diners can now sit in the exact spot Elvis sat in. The Elvis Booth attracts visitors from across the globe.

“It is amazing, Ireland, Australia, Austria, we had some in the other night from the Netherlands and from inside the United States.”

But it has been the regular, faithful customers who have kept the vintage diner in business all these years, along with great food and stellar customer service.

“The tourists and that aspect is neat, but it’s the locals that keep us going.”

“The locals, we call them by name and half the time we don’t even ask them what they want, we know what they drink, we know what they eat, they’re not just customers, they become family.”

Trends come and go in the restaurant business but Johnnie’s Drive-In doesn’t worry about following trends. They will keep serving those dough burgers, cheeseburgers, and barbecue with a smile, whether you are from around the corner or from around the world.

Craig and Christi said they will have a big celebration to mark the 80th birthday of Johnnie’s in two years.

For 24/7  news and updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Categories: Featured, Local News