Stop & Eat Drive-In Restaurant Turns 50

by Staff Reporter / Sep 28, 2017 / comments
Stop & Eat Drive In as it appears today.  Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

Stop & Eat Drive-In Restaurant Turns 50

By ROBERT NARANJO

One of the last home-owned and operated fast food restaurants (the others are Dandy Burger and El Parasol) in Espanola, “Stop & Eat Drive-In,” celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2017. Founded by Eustavio “Gus” Martinez , his wife, Sergen, and J.W. Owens, it opened for business on Jan. 2, 1967. A hamburger sold for .19 cents and a bag of potato chips was thrown in free and Cokes were .5 cents. Sergen still visits the Stop & Eat Drive-In often, son Gerald Martinez told the Valley Daily Post.

Gus & Sergen Martinez, founders of the Stop & Eat Drive-In. J.W. Owens was a co-founder. Sergen still visits the restaurant often, son Gerald Martinez told the Valley Daily Post.

The Stop & Eat Drive-In Restaurant has passed the test of time and the onslaught of national fast food chain restaurants that have become part of Espanola and they continue to come with “Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers” the latest to open. There is also a city planning and zoning sign announcing a new drive-through restaurant behind McDonalds where a Wienerschnitzel is scheduled to open early next year (See previous story HERE).

The Stop & Eat Drive-In is now owned and managed by Gus and Sergen Martinez’s son, Gerald Martinez and daughter, Elma Leyba.

Gerald Martinez and Elma Leyba, son and daughter of founders Gus & Sergen Martinez, now own and manage the Stop & Eat Drive-In. Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

How has a small, local fast food restaurant managed to survive for 50 years with competition from all the national chain fast food restaurants? People when asked say “great food, friendly staff,” and a feeling of nostalgia--either inside the restaurant or parked outside, “like the good old days” said one man.

Stop & Eat Drive-In employees are loyal and that may be part of its formula for success. Janet Quintana has been an employee for32 years, Monica Lopez, 21 years, Maxine Gurule, 20 years, and Brenda Cata, 12 years.

Stop & Eat Drive-In employees take a minute to pose for the camera. There were more employees but were busy or camera shy. Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

The employees feel like “working owners” they related to the Valley Daily Post. Indeed, when one enters the restaurant the employees appear to be having fun while they work. While no one is whistling while they work, they may as well be, that’s the attitude they have. It is apparent that they love their jobs.

Stop & Eat Drive-In employees hard at work as the lunch hour approaches. Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

When asked what is the secret to his success, owner Martinez told the Valley Daily Post, “Homemade freshly cooked food, simple as that.”

This is the little restaurant that could. In 2014, the Stop & Eat Drive-In appeared in a Coca-Cola ad during the Super Bowl. It also appeared in the popular series “Longmire.”

View of rooftop signage at the Stop & Eat Drive-In. Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

Additionally, the Stop & Eat Drive-In was featured in a photo shoot by “Lowrider Magazine,” a movie, “Over Her Dead Body,” New Yorker Magazine did a special on New Mexico chile cheese burgers, website video “H Block” and many more national magazines and media.

The 2017 Rio Arriba County Fair displayed a model of the Stop & Eat Drive-In complete with classic car models parked in front of the restaurant. It was entered in the Fair’s Open Division. The model was built by Espanola YMCA Director Ben Sandoval and youth from the Y in 2012. Sandoval told the Valley Daily Post that the model of the Stop & Eat Drive-In has won many awards and is one of the most popular displays at the New Mexico State Fair and is requested year after year.

Stop & Eat  Drive-In award winning model by Director Ben Sandoval and youth from the YMCA.

Home-owned and operated fast food restaurants are fading fast from the American restaurant scene much like drive-in theaters. But the Stop & Eat Drive-In Restaurant is still going stronger than ever.

The Valley Daily Post congratulates the Stop & Eat Drive-In Restaurant on its 50th Anniversary as it embarks on the next 50 years.

See below for more images of this iconic Drive-In.

Carport at the Stop & Eat Drive In. Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com

 

Stools inside the Stop & Eat Drive In have nostalgic look. Retro! Photo by Robert Naranjo for the valleydailypost.com