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By Paul Lonardo
Drive-thru restaurants abound, but a drive-in restaurant is a bit of a relic these days, a throwback to the past. Most people may not even be familiar with this dining concept. At A&W in Smithfield your car is the table, and the waitresses come outside to serve you right at your window. This novelty restaurant located at 460 Putnam Pike, first opened in 1950, and is known as the longest running drive-in restaurant with car hop service in the state. If you’ve never eaten there before, you’re in for something extra special this season. “Turn Lights on For Service” is all you need to do to begin to enjoy all that A&W in Smithfield has in store for its customers in 2019.
The history of A&W Restaurants goes back even further than its Rhode Island inception, a full one hundred years to be exact. It all started shortly after American entrepreneur Roy W. Allen purchased a recipe from a man who claimed to have perfected a mix for root beer. Not long after, on a sunny June day in 1919, Allen set up a small stand in Lodi, California where he sold the refreshment during a parade celebrating the return of World War I veterans. So the very first mugs of root beer were sold to returning soldiers for five cents.
During that era, Prohibition helped the sale of all soft drinks across the United States, and Allen found great success with his root beer stand. The drink gained the name “A&W Root Beer” when Frank Wright, an employee joined Allen as a partner. Allen and Wright became A&W, and in 1923 they opened their first drive-in restaurant in Sacramento.
Over time, Allen expanded and franchised his drive-in restaurants. Today, there are locations all around the country and throughout the world, each serving a typical fast-food menu that includes hamburgers, french fries, hot dogs, and other items. The root beer is still made fresh today, just as is was back in 1919, with ingredients like real cane sugar and a proprietary blend of herbs, bark and spices. It’s still caffeine free and served in one of A&W’s famous “frosty mugs,” those thick-handled glasses that are kept in the freezer before being filled with the signature taste of frothy A&W Root Beer.
A&W in Smithfield will begin frosting their mugs to begin the new season on March 9, and Stephanie Mosca, who has been the restaurant’s owner-operator since 1995, is excited about the franchise’s 100-year anniversary and the year-long celebration that will observed with a variety of special offers, customer-appreciation giveaways and fun activities.
On the 100th day of the season, June 17, they will be giving a free float to the first hundred customers, and a big anniversary party will take place on June 19, which is believed to be the date that Roy Allen opened up his first A&W stand in 1919.
“There will be raffles and all sorts of games,” Stephanie says. “Rooty, The Great Root Bear, A&W’s mascot, will be there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
There will be a monthly drawing, and every customer will be able to enter to win a variety of commemorative merchandise and prizes. The monthly winner will spin a prize wheel to determine the gift they will receive.
“We’re also going to have another promotion called Float It Forward,” Stephanie says. “Every month we will pick some local group or organization and allow them to come to the restaurant at a certain time and day to receive a free float. It’s a great way to give back to the community and show appreciation for their customers, especially during this anniversary season.”
Each year A&W puts out a new collector’s mug, and this year there will be a special golden mug to commemorate the 100th anniversary, and customers who purchase one will have a chance at uncovering a random golden ticket, à la Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, which would entitle the recipient to one free float every week throughout the season.
Also, one Thursday each month they will be sponsoring what is being called Thursday Throwback, and on these days the restaurant will pick an item on their menu and they will reduce the price to what it cost Smithfield customers back in 1960, when A&W of Smithfield first opened. For example, a 14 oz. Root Beer was just 10 cents, while a hot dog set you back 20 cents, and you had to plunk down a quarter for a hamburger.
Of course, all the regular annual events at A&W of Smithfield will all be observed, such as the popular Cruise Night every Tuesday, which will begin in April. The Tuesday Cruise is the longest running single site weekly cruise, and is hosted by local radio personality Cruisin Bruce Palmer. This event routinely attracts an average of 100 classic show cars. It’s something to see. Bike Night on Thursdays, will also begin in April.
A&W’s commitment to our troops remains just as strong today as it was 100 years ago.
“We are celebrating our partnership with DAV (Disabled American Veterans) on National Root Beer Float Day, which is August 6th every year,” Stephanie says. “We give away Root Beer Floats and collect donations for Disabled American Veterans each year.”
So this season help A&W of Smithfield celebrate its 100-year anniversary and take advantage of all the specials in the nostalgic setting of Rhode Island’s oldest drive-in restaurant with car hop service. If you haven’t been there before you are in for a real treat. Enjoy their famous Root Beer Float or try one of their signature burgers, like the Original Bacon Cheeseburger, invented by A&W. It’s an experience you won’t get anywhere else.
A&W of Smithfield will be open beginning March 9, 11am – 8pm daily with expanded hours in the summer, 11am – 11 pm. To keep up on all this season’s promotions visit smithfieldaw.com.