In their youth, they were rivals at Grant, Southeastern and Capitol Hill high schools, but years later, grayer but mostly wiser, a group of south Oklahoma City residents began to gather one Saturday a month to relive their memories and browse through old yearbooks. Those get-togethers have continued since 2009. The gathering spot, every time, has been Coit ‘s Drive-In at SW 25 and Western Avenue.
Opened in 1954 by the late Don Coit , the restaurant has survived the ravages of time that claimed other southside favorites such as The Spot, Spartan Drive-In and Shipman’s.
But now the future of Coit ‘s is in doubt as the three family-owned restaurants are up for sale with no intention of keeping the business going once the transactions are completed.
“It’s where we cruised in high school,” said Don Munday, a longtime member of the monthly southside gatherings. “Our families would go there to get root beer all the time. Hot dogs and root beer – two of my favorite food groups. I don’t want it to close. It’s an icon.”
Jessie Coit has fond memories of her own. A photo displayed in the dining room of the Coit ‘s Drive-In at NW 50 and Portland Avenue shows her son Bill at the counter, years ago, when her husband Don Coit was still running the show. Don Coit ran the business until he died in 2005. He and his three brothers struggled with their widowed mother to make ends meet during his youth. She worked at the Stockyards, and the boys delivered newspapers to help pay for groceries and rent.
While serving overseas during World War II, Don Coit continued to work hard, and by the time he returned home, Jessie Coit said, they had $1,800 saved. Don Coit then went to work for his older brother Raymond at the Stockyards, where he evaluated measurements and sales prices for cattle.
“He was just born with a terrific mathematical brain,” Jessie Coit said. “He knew how hard it was to work and make money. His word was good.”
Don Coit , however, was not a farm boy and aspired to leave the Stockyards. When he learned of a lot for sale at SW 25 and Western Avenue, he borrowed money from his mother and jumped at the chance to open a Weber’s root beer stand.
“He wanted to be his own boss, and this was the place where they sold used cars,” Jessie Coit said. “They didn’t want too much; it wasn’t big money.”
The operation started off meager – a root beer stand with no windows, just a shutter board that closed when the day’s business was over. Winter business was dismal, and Don Coit was looking for a way to survive the cold weather when an acquaintance at the fire department suggested he sell Christmas trees.
Don Coit traveled west to Washington and east to North Carolina. The family got to know the tree growers, staying at their homes, and before long his business was as well known for its Christmas tree lots as it was for its root beer stand.
“That’s why we had the best trees found anywhere here,” Jessie Coit said. “We would go out there as a family, and he would take the grandchildren out, and they would learn how it was done.”
The operation grew; the root beer stand ended its affiliation with Weber’s and turned into a drive-in and restaurant, and two more drive-ins were opened at NW 39 and Pennsylvania Avenue and at NW 50 and Portland. Don Coit bought more real estate, including the Coit Center shopping plaza across from his NW 50 restaurant.
By the 1980s, the Coit ‘s logo with the Christmas tree atop the “i” became a fixture in town for anyone driving by the restaurants or the large Christmas tree operation opened every winter at the corner of Northwest Expressway and what is now the Lake Hefner Parkway. Classic car enthusiasts, meanwhile, would gather for summertime rallies at the restaurant at NW 39 and Pennsylvania.
When Don Coit died, it wasn’t long after that the family exited the Christmas tree business. The truckers who delivered the trees began to insist on adding fuel charges, which Jessie Coit said made the operation no longer economically feasible.
The family is older now, and Jessie Coit notes that with rising food prices the restaurant business requires more and more work to keep going.
The restaurants are being marketed individually for sale by Paul Ravencraft and Phillip Mazaheri with Price Edwards & Co.
“If they were sold all together, it would have to be at a great discount and we think there is more value to them being sold separately,” Ravencraft said.
And when the last of the restaurants are sold, the Coit ‘s name will no longer be attached to the sale of root beer, hot dogs and hamburgers.
“The Coit ‘s name goes away,” Ravencraft said. “It’s just a real estate transaction. I think they’ll all remain restaurants. They’re still profitable, they make money; it just takes so much out of the family to run them.”
— Steve Lackmeyer
from The Oklahoman, November 24, 2011