In 1961, when Larry Campbell and Jack Clarke opened Jack’s Drive-In, they had no idea what they were creating would become a local icon. They just wanted to have their own little ice cream and burger stand to serve the best food they could make.
Their partnership started during a chance meeting between Jack and Larry, who were old grade school friends, while they were both on their honeymoons. Jack and Jean Clarke had been married on the same day that Larry and Marcel Campbell tied the knot and both couples were honeymooning in Great Falls, Montana when they ran into each other.
Larry and Jack reconnected and shortly afterwards Larry took Jack to show him the incredible appetite people had for ice cream treats. After watching long lines of people waiting
for ice cream at a nearby corner store they decided the time was right to open a drive-in restaurant of their own.
Little did they know that five decades later Jack’s Drive-In would still be Spruce Grove’s best-loved restaurant, longest surviving business and a local tourist attraction in its own right.
The land the drive-in sits on was purchased for $700 from the crushing mill that was located immediately to the east. Larry and Jack erected the original building themselves. The unique roofline was designed to attract attention from the highway traffic but, as later owners would discover, a V-shaped roof does not do much for water drainage.
It took approximately three months to build the original Jack’s Drive-In and in June 1961 the grand opening was held with Spruce Grove Mayor John Allen Gosset in attendance.
The drive-in was an immediate hit with Spruce Grove locals and visitors. Uniformed carhops served fresh, hand-made hamburgers and home-cut fries right to the customer’s car window and kids flocked to the take-out windows on the front of the building where jumbo-sized soft ice cream cones were served.
There was no indoor seating during that first year, but the roof extended off the front of the building to provide a canopy cover for the take-out windows and a place for the carhops to stay dry during inclement weather. Families heading to and from lakeside cabins or camping
trips made a stop at Jack’s part of their routine - a tradition that still lives on today.
After the first summer of operation, Jack decided to get out of the restaurant business leaving Larry the sole owner of the drive-in he had named after his former partner.
In the fall of 1961, Larry undertook an expansion of the original building by enclosing the canopy area to create a place for customers to sit inside and eat. Enclosing the canopy and, years later the addition of a small building purchased from a local auto dealership and connected onto the back of the drive-in, have been the only significant changes to the original structure.
Jack’s is one of the few businesses in Alberta that has operated continually for more than five decades from the same building at the same location.
Jack’s Drive-In was operated by Larry and Marcel Campbell for one more summer before they too got out of the restaurant business. While the original owners were now gone, the drive-in continued to build its reputation under the ownership of Ed and Margaret Hamilton who ran the drive-in from 1962 to 1971.
Running Jack’s was a family affair for the Hamiltons as their son, coincidentally also named Jack, and his wife Kate (aka Marie) along with their granddaughters helped operate the restaurant.
The business changed hands again in 1971 when it was taken over by Edna Anderson (Sundby) who made several changes during her seven years as owner. The lot was paved, siding was changed, the kitchen was moved to the back of the building, a walk-in cooler and air conditioning were added and the carhops were replaced with speakers, turning the “drive-in” into a “drive-thru”. One thing Edna did not change was the operating season as Jack’s was only open from March to October while under her ownership.
In 1977, Jack’s was sold to Charlie Cox and his family and over the next three decades the Cox family would continue to develop Jack’s into one to of the premier drive-in restaurants in Alberta. Charlie Cox eventually put in a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on the site of the old crushing mill to the east of Jack’s, and the nickname “Chicken Charlie” was born.
The Cox’s did three major renovations to the drive-in while they owned it and changed it to a year-round operation. Eventually Charlie’s daughter, Cheryl, took over the restaurant until it was sold in March 2008.
Jack’s was purchased in 2008 by Mandy O’Donnell, who today operates it with her husband, Steven Kenworthy along with other family members and long-term staff. Mandy grew up on a farm south of Spruce Grove and has always loved the great food and lasting memories that make Jack’s a special place for so many people. As a child, she can recall being bribed into going to church on Sunday’s with the promise of a stop at Jack’s afterwards.
While the little restaurant has gone through many changes and owners over the years, the people of Spruce Grove and the surrounding area have always considered Jack’s Drive-In
theirs. The basic menu has been the same for decades and customers are fiercely loyal.
From its humble beginnings 50 years ago to the thriving, beloved restaurant it is today, Jack’s has stood the test of time and taste.