The year was 1960. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. The Twist by Chubby Checker was a top-10 hit on the music charts. In Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom Grishaber, and his wife Corinne borrowed $26,000 to build a Drive-In across from Telulah Park on the city’s south side. It became an instant favorite for Fox Valley residents by offering 15¢ Hamburgers, 15¢ French fries, and 20¢ milk shakes!
During the first two years of business, the Drive-In was only open during the warm weather season. Tom continued to work full-time at Riverside Paper Company during the day, and then work evenings and weekends at his new restaurant. Tom’s wife Corinne ran the Drive-In during the day, while also raising the first of their four children.
Year Round Operations
In 1962, Tom quit his paper mill job and, with Corinne, added a glass enclosure and expanded the Drive-In from a seasonal to a year-round operation. During the early years, Tom and his wife sometimes worked the drive-in by themselves, he serving and she cooking.
One by one, the Grishaber’s four children–Mark, Mary Kay, Dean and Scot–began working there, too. Long hours and dedication proved to be a winning combination and they have not looked back since.
In the mid-1970s, the Grishaber’s added their second drive-in to the family name. They began adding more locations as each of their three sons became partners in the family business. This allowed the Tom’s Drive In brand to strengthen and expand its reach further into the community.
In a 30 year timespan, Tom’s Drive In grew into a six-location fast food establishment: Walter Avenue, Northland Avenue, Outagamie Street, Wisconsin Avenue, College Avenue, and 9th Street Menasha.
This was a busy time of growth for Tom’s Drive In. The Grishaber’s expanded their brand and brought their Drive-Ins to Appleton’s surrounding communities.
Additional Tom’s Drive In locations were added in Appleton, Menasha, Neenah, Little Chute, and Green Bay.
In 2001, The Calumet Street location was built on Appleton’s east side and the first Tom’s Drive-In location from 1960, near Telulah Park, was closed. The Calumet Street location was designed with retro-theme décor to honor that first location. The dining room has a nostalgic car mural on the wall, painted car tire marks on the floors, and includes a replica street sign for Walter Ave and Telulah Ave.
In 2005, The Westhill Boulevard location was built and opened in December. This replaced the previous location on Prospect Avenue. The Westhill location has carnival-themed decor, including booths made from tilt-a-whirl cars. The building is also home to the Tom’s Drive In’s corporate offices.
In 2007, an Airplane themed drive-in was built on American Drive in the Village of Fox Crossing. It is in a convenient location that shares space with our sister company Holidays Pub & Grill.
Tom’s Drive In expanded into a market area outside of the Fox Valley in 2015. The Sheboygan location has a golfing theme and is next door to our sister company’s second location of Holidays Pub and Grill
Celebrating 60 Years
Tom’s Drive In celebrated its 60th year anniversary with retro pricing specials and limited-edition giveaway items such as Tom’s branded cups, bumper stickers, frisbees, keychains, and bracelets. Customers were encouraged to participate in the “Favorite Tom’s Story” essay contest a chance to win $1000 in gift cards or a special retro Tom’s Drive In cooler. There was also a special drive-in movie night at our American Drive location for the customers to enjoy while eating the infamous Tom’s popcorn.
The newest location will be opening in early 2022, on Appleton’s north side at Evergreen and Richmond. This location will feature a national parks theme with a large mural and other nature décor. This location will share the site with our sister company’s 3rd location of Holidays Pub & Grill.
Today, there are nine Tom’s Drive In locations in five Northeast Wisconsin communities. Still, Tom’s is small compared to the national fast-food giants that dot the landscape.
Tom’s has remained “famous for good food” because of hard work, good service, and variety and value in our menu.