85 years of Jolly’s: Drive-in stand remains popular for root beer and footlongs

Jolly’s, a beloved Hamilton staple, celebrates its 85th anniversary this year, and Mike and Greg Jolivette say their family couldn’t have done it without the thousands of people who made it run every year.

Known for its root beer floats and foot-long hot dogs, the menu has remained virtually the same since it first open in the spring of 1937, said the Jolivette brothers, who are two of five children of the drive-in founders Vince Sr. and Betty Jolivette.

Despite the fact that Jolly’s is packed whenever it opens for the season ― the 165 Brookwood Ave. location opened this past Thursday and the 210 N. Erie Blvd. opened the week prior ― Greg said he still gets nervous ahead of opening day.

“Every year, opening up, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘Are people going to come back?’” Greg said. “And then that first day, we’re packed and everything seems chaotic, but at the end of the night you sit back with satisfaction.”

The drive-in is open seven days a week for 40 weeks each year, a model that’s been in place since the beginning ― though it was open fewer weeks when it first started.

Almost a century later, Jolly’s has become a part of people’s lives, from former co-workers ending up married to parents and grandparents treating the younger generation to the nostalgia of their youth.

“The food is good, the price is good and reasonable, and we always attempt to get it to them fast,” Greg said on why the Jolly’s formula has worked.

For the first time ever, Greg said Jolly’s recently catered a 50th wedding anniversary “because they met at Jolly’s and they wanted to have Jolly’s at their golden anniversary.”

While now Jolly’s is synonymous with Hamilton, it only became a beloved part of the city because of a watch.

Vince Sr. and Betty Jolivette, who lived in La Crosse, Wisc., got a $1,000 loan from Vince’s uncle to start an A&W root beer stand. The couple traveled the Midwest to find a location and it came down to two choices: Hamilton, Ohio, and Gary, Ind.

Betty’s father had a “Hamilton” watch, and that’s why she and Vince decided on Hamilton. It’s unknown if the watch was made in the capital city of Butler County, but Greg said he doubted it.

“They bought a trailer from my great uncle and they lived behind the stand,” said Greg, adding they would clean up at the nearby Fenmont Center.

Vince Sr. and Betty would travel back to Wisconsin at the end of each season until kids started to come along, the Jolivette brothers said. Mike and Mary Fran were born in Wisconsin, but Vince Jr., Kathleen, and Greg were all born in Ohio.

Mike and Greg are the only second-generation Jolivettes involved in the day-to-day operations of the two remaining stories. A third Jolly’s had operated by Vince Jr. in Fairfield, but it closed and was demolished several years ago.

Mike’s been working full time for Jolly’s since he was 25 and now he’s 81 years old, and Greg has been working full time for almost 47 years.

While Jolly’s has been successful because of its faithful customers, Greg and Mike said it’s thousands of people have worked for the Jolivettes, most of whom this was their first job, and Greg said they enjoy hiring 15- and 16-year-olds to help them learn the value of hard work.

“It’s a good first job,” Greg said. “And we are grateful for all the employees that we’ve had, that’s worked for us.”

Jolly’s is now employing third generations of families, like the Strickers, Hesslers and Menses as they’ve all had multiple children worked at A&W Jolly’s through the years.

For Mike, the 85th anniversary is “full circle.” He recalled telling his dad he needed a telephone in 1967, “and he didn’t want to put one in because he was afraid the employees would be on the phone all the time.”

It took a few months to get a phone at Jolly’s then “and now we’re to the point they’ve got to talk me into doing online ordering and all that, which pretty much I’m against” not because he’s against technology, but “I’d like to get out and see the customers.”


JOLLY’S HOURS

Jolly’s is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., though hours may vary on holidays.

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