There’s a giant chicken in Clear Lake, Iowa.
His name is Cooper and if you drive along U.S. 18 from Mason City to Clear Lake, you won’t miss him. He likes it when people take his photo.
Cooper stands outside the Barrel Drive-In, a historic restaurant that’s served ice cream and broasted chicken since 1958. The Barrel started as the small shack pictured below on a gravel lot and expanded into a covered drive-in with two dining rooms.
A 1/2 chicken dinner is no longer $1.25, but it’s still darn affordable. It’ll cost less than $10 and still come with a roll, side salad, choice of crinkle fries, thick slices of broasted potato, or coleslaw and twist of soft serve ice cream.
Back in the day, the Barrel used to be a hot spot. A DJ played music from the booth on the rooftop and people would come out to dance. These days, the Barrel is in need of many updates.
Current owner Seth Thackery shared his story and vision with us at our last North Iowa Social Media Breakfast. He began working at the Barrel at age 14 and bought the restaurant in 2007. He’s already put a lot of his own money into fixing what’s worn. Unfortunately, he’s finding much of the worn can’t be fixed, but must be replaced. He considered selling the drive-in when Casey’s General Store expressed interest in purchasing the property. When he learned that Casey’s wanted to tear the building down, he sought help for his business.
After learning about the Barrel’s possible fate, the community has rallied behind Thackery. Julie Wright, owner of Executive Financial Architects and Michael Fiala, owner of Northern Iowa Internet & Creative Services awarded him a $75,000 grant along with business and marketing coaching. Other volunteers are offering assistance with repairs and social media management. Plus, the Barrel recently applied for a Restaurant Impossible make-over.
Thackery especially needs a new kitchen and hopes to add a soda fountain bar.
The broasted chicken was as memorable as everyone implied with its crackly-crispy skin and juicy meat. I chose a side of french fries. They were fried well without being greasy and nicely salted, though I envied my companions who nibbled thick, broasted potato wedges. Side salads came with a sweet, homemade French dressing and I think I tasted celery seed.
Sara used the booth’s speaker to call-in our order.
Thackery’s passion for his business shone through. After hearing him speak and spending time with him at the Barrel, we all want this hardworking restauranteur to succeed.
Grantor Julie Wright said, “Be appreciative of what seems old-fashioned,” and her words rang through my head all day.
There’s still a place for an old-fashioned drive-in where families order from speakers in their cars or booths and eat broasted chicken with their fingers. Hopefully the Barrel will get the renovation it deserves and you’ll see people dancing by moonlight to music spun by a rooftop DJ next to a spinning barrel and a chicken named Cooper.
Volunteers can offer their time and talents here to save the Barrel.
My Lunch Dates:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara