The Story Behind That Iconic, Little Food Stand On Milwaukee's East Side

Mar 8, 2019

On one of the busiest intersections of Milwaukee's east side, sits a tiny food stand on the corner of a parking lot. The sign simply reads "The Drive-Thru."

A curious listener reached out to Bubbler Talk — our series that answers your questions about Milwaukee and the region — in hopes of learning more.

“I drive past Chubby’s on the corner of Oakland and North nearly every day. What is the story behind this iconic little food stand?”

On a recent chilly Saturday morning, Shovanni Henderson drives up to the window and orders breakfast —bacon and eggs.

Only a couple cars can be in line at a time, because the shop is wedged into such a small space. Henderson says she’s lived in Milwaukee her whole life and has been frequenting The Drive-Thru for about five years.

Shovanni Henderson drives up to The Drive Thru to order breakfast.
Credit Lauren Sigfusson

“I remember coming here one time when I was pregnant with my son. That was my first time having it, my best friend brought me down here at 1:30 in the morning,” she recalls.

Henderson says she loves the food, and especially likes coming here late at night. The place is open until 2 a.m. during the week — and 3 a.m. on the weekends.

Another customer, Marie Sanders, says she drove up from Chicago to visit some friends in Milwaukee, and they recommended the place. "I like the vibe. I don’t think there’s any place in Chicago like this, so this is new.”

The most popular item on the menu — the mini-doughnuts.
Credit Lauren Sigfusson

Sanders orders the signature item on the menu — freshly made mini-doughnuts. Inside the food stand, a worker feeds a butter mixture into a machine that cranks out a dozen doughnuts and places them in a fryer. The mini-doughnuts are served warm, sprinkled with sugar and melt in your mouth.

While the doughnuts are the most popular item, the menu is extensive — sloppy joes, nachos, hand-dipped milkshakes.

Jessica Meyer manages Chubby’s restaurant, located on the other side of the parking lot. She says the little place has been around since the 1980s. First, it was a stand where people could drop off film to have it developed. Then a new owner turned the space into a drive-thru.

“It got converted into the little mini-doughnut shop, and the owner of that decided not to renew their lease. Chubby’s was already here at that time, so we decided to take it over," she explains.

Pretty much all the space inside the tiny food stand is put to good use.
Credit Lauren Sigfusson

Meyer says The Drive-Thru serves about 100 people per day and estimates that 90 percent of the orders are for the mini-doughnuts. They've proven to be such a crowd pleaser that Chubby’s serves them at two of its restaurants in other parts of town.

As for opening additional tiny drive-ups? “As far as expanding to do another just doughnut shop," Meyer explains, "I’m not sure because this is kind of a little icon here and I don’t know if we’d get that same traffic if it was popping up new somewhere." 

Customers have memories of visiting this little corner of the east side for the tasty treats ... and she doesn't want to tamper with tradition.

Editor's note: After this story was published, WUWM heard from Susan Beaumont of Sil's Mini Donuts, which first sold mini doughnuts at the tiny drive-thru restaurant featured in this report. Beaumont says Sil's operated at the site for nine years ending in 2012, putting "that building and mini doughnuts on the map in Milwaukee." Beaumont told us: "Unlike the quote in the article, we did not decide not to renew our lease."

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