A&W celebrating 50 years

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home A&W will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday.

The celebration will include a classic car cruise-in, with All Rights Reserved playing from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Hot dogs and root beers are 50 cents each from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Contests will include watermelon eating and hula hooping. Photos of the store and crews and memorabilia will be on display.

A&W opened on June 23, 1961, said owner Patty Hankins. “It was originally just the root beer stand part.”

Pat and Frankie Sullivan built and operated the restaurant, said Hankins, who now owns the restaurant with her husband, Josh Hankins. The Sullivans sold it to Del and Donna Moen in 1964. They added a dining room in the early 1970s. They sold it to Verlin and Evonne Weaver in 1979.

Josh and Patty Hankins purchased it from the Weavers in 1999.

Patty Hankins had worked there since she was in high school and she had hoped to own the store, she said. She subbed as a teacher’s aide with School District 55 for a short time. She was just getting into that when the Weavers asked her whether she and her husband could finance the purchase of the restaurant.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Hankins said. “I was really young when we bought it.”

The Weavers gave her a good background and base of experience though, she said. “They really did this for a lot of people that started working here.”

She thinks she has carried on that tradition, she said. The turnover in the restaurant is much lower than fast food standards, which is usually only nine months. Some crew has been with the store more than five years.

After purchasing the restaurant, Josh Hankins continued to work in manufacturing at Hewlett-Packard for about another year, Patty Hankins said. She handled most of the day-to-day business.

“We realized it could support both of us just fine,” Hankins said, and Josh Hankins went to work at A&W full time. As the years have gone by, she spends more time at home with their children, Luci, 4, and Owen, 1, while he works a little more and handles the books.

The Hankins remodeled the restaurant in 2002, with a new sign in 2003, and they’re painting it this week in retro white and orange, the original colors for the franchise.

Corporate A&W dictates how the store can be changed, and corporate has been pushing a retro theme to take the chain back to its roots, Patty Hankins said.

Sweet Home A&W is the second highest-grossing A&W in the state, Hankins said. Only Stayton, with a cannery across the street, is busier.

The recession has impacted the restaurant, with fewer people traveling, Hankins said. June, July and August, the busy months for travelers, are the restaurant’s busiest months, providing 70 percent of business. At the same time, the restaurant has seen increases in business.