As a farm kid, Mary Bergin rarely ate at restaurants. When she turned 16 and snatched the family car keys, a favorite and frequent destination was the local A&W drive-in. That was 40 years ago, but today that A&W—renamed Chester’s—remains a drive-in and popular. Bergin has surveyed other flourishing Wisconsin drive-ins, including two with roller-skating carhops, and has her theories about why these places thrive even as this category for dining declines nationwide. Reportorial research into this topic complements her personal experiences, observations, and details already gathered through her work as a journalist.
Mary Bergin is a lifelong journalist whose weekly and syndicated travel column about Wisconsin began in 2002, covering topics almost always close to home. Regional foods and rural business endeavors figure prominently in her award-winning books about Wisconsin and the Midwest (Sidetracked in Wisconsin, Hungry for Wisconsin, and Sidetracked in the Midwest). Bergin is constantly searching for destinations, attractions, and other businesses distinctive to the Midwest.
This talk was part of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance‘s fifth annual symposium, “Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time.” Other events from this symposium recorded by Chicago Amplified—listed in the order they were presented—are as follows:
Marked for Life: My Travels on Route 66 in ‘53, with Terri Ryburn
State Fair Heirloom Recipe Contest, with Catherine Lambrecht
Mobile Food in 19th-Century Chicago, with Peter Engler
Food Trucks: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with Louisa Chu
Will Success Spoil Regional Food?, with Michael Stern
The Drive-In Restaurant: Before and After the Dawn of Fast Food, Food Theater, with Mary Bergin
A Gopher Turned Badger Eats Hoosier, and Vice Versa: Midwestern Culinary Traditions in the Small-Town Cafe, with Joanne Stuttgen
What Happened to Horseshoes?, with Julianne Glatz
Pies on the Road, with Shirley Cherkasky
Ethnographic Food Writing, or How I Ate My Way Across Wisconsin and Lived to Tell About It, with Joanne Stuttgen
Culinary Tourism in the Land of Meat and Potatoes and Green Bean Casserole, with Lucy M. Long
Summer Vacations in Northern Wisconsin, with Kelly Sears
Born to be Mild: Oral Histories and Pathways of the Midwest Supper Club, with Dave Hoekstra
Farmers Markets of the Heartland, the Ultimate Road Trip, with Janine MacLachlan
On the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, with Clara Orban
Remarks by Marilyn Wilkinson of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art Curator-Led Tour
Recorded Saturday, April 28, 2012 at Kendall College.