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Rollerskates, root beer, and rock n' roll

Rudy’s Drive-In heads into 32nd season

By Julie Schneider
On April 6, 2011

  • Rudy’s Drive-In opened for it’s 32nd season March 25. The Rudy family began their business back in 1933 when William Rudy opened his first A&W root beer stand in Chippewas Falls, WI. The family opened several other root beer stands in La Crosse before changing the name the Rudy’s at its current location at 10th and La Crosse streets. Courtesy Gary Rudy

Let the burgers sizzle and the root beer foam. On March 25 Rudy's Drive-In opened for its 32nd season. As cars lined up for the local food, owner Gary Rudy was reminded of where the resturant all began.

1933 was the year the tradition began for the Rudy family when Grandpa William Rudy opened his first A&W Root Beer stand in Chippewa Falls, Wis. In 1937 he bought an existing root beer stand on the corner of 4th and Vine, and between 1938-1940 he brought three more root beer stands to La Crosse.

In 1947 Grandpa William built the A&W Drive-In, which still exists today on the south side of La Crosse under different ownership.  

Dale Rudy was the second generation to take over the tradition in the mid 1950s, and his son Gary, the current owner of Rudy's, took over the business in 1979, located on 10th and La Crosse Street. The Rudy's in this location originally opened in 1966 and continues to keep the strong tradition alive.  

Gary Rudy started out working at the A&W Drive-In. that his family owned during his childhood, when he was in second grade. He washed dishes, cleared off trays and made ice cream floats. Once he became the owner he changed the name from A&W to Rudy's Drive-In.  

According to Gary, Rudy's offers the perfect spot for people to come and experience a classic drive-in restaurant featuring roller skating carhops (waitresses), home-made root beer, good food and an overall entertaining feeling.  

Rudy's also provides certain features particular to their restaurant, including Cruise Night, which takes place on every Tuesday starting in June, where people rev up their classic car and mosey on down to Rudy's to enjoy their beautiful summer nights filled with root beer floats and carhops sporting poodle skirts.  Bike night is on Thursdays in the summer, with people riding in on their motorcycles from near and far.          

Gary feels that Rudy's offers an alternative to ordinary fast food places in the La Crosse area because of the service and the unique items on the menu, which consist of everything from burgers and sandwiches to fries, onion rings, cheese curds floats, ice cream treats and root beer coolers.

  "What I truly love about Rudy's are the customers that I am able to interact with and also the different people who I have the opportunity to meet due to them becoming a new staff member or being a customer checking out Rudy's for the very first time," Gary said, "the customers are truly the key stonework for our customer service and our dedication to always provide our best."

 Because Rudy's Drive-In is a seasonal business operation, Gary thinks that opening for the new season every year is like opening a new restaurant every year because of the improvements that were made and brainstormed over the winter.  

Along with the Rudy's Drive-In located in La Crosse, there is also a Rudy's located in Sparta, Wis. The Sparta location is solely a drive-in with no indoor seating.

According to Gary, the Sparta location is more high-tech when it comes to placing customer orders. Unlike the La Crosse location that has an intercom that customers place orders in,  the carhop skates out to the car and talks in person with the customer, takes down their order on a small computer and then hits send and the order is sent directly to the kitchen.      

Kayla Lenz, a junior at UW-La Crosse, is really excited to head to Rudy's to try the tasty food that the restaurant provides.  "Rudy's offers a fun, friendly and relaxed atmosphere that is a nice change of pace from other restaurants in the area. I am excited to see and experience what a true drive-in restaurant is like," Lenz said.

  The root beer has been brewed, the tap is cold and the season has just begun, with an enthusiastic crowd and staff anxious to bring back the delicious treats that make Rudy's so unique overall.  Rudy's is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through mid-October, offering monthly specials and also selling custom-made shirts that a customer can design and have their name placed on for $15.

 "The customers always come back year after year and the business has been able to grow each year, and I am truly thankful for that.  Rudy's is a fun place that offers classic food and classic fun for everyone," Gary said. 

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