Mugs Up

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COLUMBIA - While the drive-in restaurant industry has experienced a decline, one Columbia drive-in location is thriving.

Mugs Up was originally one in a chain of 60 franchised locations around the country. More than 60 years later, the Columbia location off of Business Loop 70 is the only one left standing. 

Its current manager, Bandon Kewley, said loyalty and word of mouth from regular customers is what keeps the business running. 

“We have people who have come out here for generations - whose parents and grandparents brought them here when they were children," he said.

Kewley began working at Mugs Up in 1989 with his grandparents and parents. 

"I’ve worked every position here including car hopping when I was a teenager," Kewley said. 

He said the current 500 feet building is the same one his grandfather purchased in 1955.

"Everything changes around us," Kewley said. "This whole neighborhood has changed, but we have remained like a little time warp."

Hudson George has been a regular customer for 57 years. He also said Mugs Up is like going back in time.

"It's exactly the same every year," George said. "Day in and day out."

Kewley said he and his family have wanted to maintain the restaurant's old-school roots.

"We don’t use the credit cards," Kewley said. "It’s a cash or local check business. We memorize the orders. Everything has stayed the same, recipes are the same."

The third-generation manager said customer favorites include the chili cheese dog or a variation of the cheese zip burger. 

“The zip burger is a loose meat hamburger, Kewley said. "The boiling of the meat makes it hold together." 

George has a definite favorite. 

"I always get the barbecue cheese zip," George said. "You can't find it any where else in the country. It's the best."

The drive-in is also known for its homemade root beer. Kewley learned to make the signature drink when he was 12 years old.  

George said it is a taste from his childhood. 

"My best buddy and I would walk here and get root beer in a gallon glass jug and go home and have probably half of it consumed by the time we walked back home." 

Kewley and his retired parents are the only three who know the recipes at Mugs Up. Kewley calls them a closely guarded secret. 

"I’ll decide who my successor will be when I know it’s my time to step down and retire, but I’m not there yet," Kewley said.  

The nostalgic drive-in will close October 28 for the season and will reopen spring 2018. 

"When they go for the season, we start counting down the days until they're opening in the spring," George said.

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