Dick's Drive-In owner reflects on 59 years in burger business

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 8:19 PM

Three generations of family sit down for lunch at Dick's Drive-in on Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne Hill. It's a feeling Seattle's "burger king" Dick Spady relishes. His grandson, Saul, sits by his side.

“The thing is, when Grandpa had his first cheeseburger, it tasted about the same as when I had my first cheeseburger, or when my dad had his first cheeseburger,” said Saul.

The very first cheeseburgers came in 1954 when Dick Spady grew intrigued by the popularity of a few drive-in burger joints in California, one of which would eventually become McDonald’s. He quit his job as a Portland real estate salesman, and in the true entrepreneurial spirit, promptly asked his boss for a loan.

“I told him I quit to go into this business,” said the 89-year-old Spady. “Then I said, ‘Incidentally, would you loan me some money to do it?’ To show you how crazy he was, he did it!”

That spirit paid off handsomely for Spady, opening up six restaurants over the next 59 years, but he always wanted to share his good fortune.

“A business that doesn’t turn a profit isn’t any good to anyone,” he said. “Once we got that taken care of, we could do the rest.”

Concerned with his workers' happiness, Spady started paying them the highest wages in the fast food business. He then started offering full health insurance, a 401k plan and even money for college.

“I did it to motivate them. I want happy workers who make good food so my customers will be happy. That’s one of the secrets,” he said.

Spady has also donated more than $500,000 to help Seattle's homeless. To him, running a "family business" means nurturing the extended family all around.

“A business’s role in the community is to help that community mature,” he said.
 
“I've never met anyone as optimistic as my dad,” said Jim Spady, whose brother and son are running day-to-day operations now. “He’s very generous. I've never met anyone more generous than Dad.”
 
While time has slowed Spady (he now lives in a retirement home with his wife and uses a walker to get around), his hunger for more continues. His interests, however, aren’t consumed by the burger business so much anymore. He founded the Community Forums Network (www.communityforumsnetwork.org), which helps people better engage in public policy issues. He also has a new second great-grandchild on way.

“I feel lucky,” he said softly, a smile making its way across his face. “It's been a great life.”

Dick's is celebrating its 59th anniversary Tuesday by offering two-for-one burgers from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

 

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