Marla Gaines Lawrence remembers walking Gilbert’s dirt roads as a child to head to Good Eats Dairy Bar for cheap burgers and root beer sold by the gallon. Gaines Lawrence, born in Gilbert in 1955, lived there when the town that now boasts more than 275,000 residents was still a rural farming community, with a single streetlight, nestled on the outskirts of Phoenix.
Good Eats was a small restaurant and ice cream parlor north of what now is Vaughn Avenue and just south of the canal. Today, a Culinary Dropout restaurant stands in the dairy bar’s place, but back then, before the development explosion of the 1980s, Good Eats was a popular spot for children and adults to grab frozen treats.
The restaurant, run by Jake and Evelyn McCullough, was a staple in Gilbert during the mid-20th century. Before the couple took over in the late 1950s, the establishment was known as Russell’s Dairy Bar.
Among the McCulloughs’ additions to the business were “frozen malts” — excess ice cream that had dripped off a cone or machine and been refrozen — sold for about a nickel. “You never knew what was going to be in it,” Gaines Lawrence recalls. “What flavor of ice cream. Whether there’d be part of a cone. But it was cheap.”
Around 1964, the McCulloughs started selling food at the dairy bar after expanding their establishment with some construction help from the Peden brothers.
“Probably my biggest memory of the dairy bar — that’s what we just called it — was that hamburgers were 10 for a dollar,” Gaines Lawrence says. “And because I’m the youngest of 10 children, when they would [send] me to order dinner for the ‘fam,’ I had to order $10 worth.” She then would walk home barefoot down Main Street (now Gilbert Road) with 100 hamburgers in tow.
The McCulloughs ran the dairy bar until the early 1970s, when they sold it to D.M. Clonts so they could move back to Texas for Jake’s health, according to Denise Lopez, president and CEO of HD South, which houses the Gilbert Historical Museum. Clonts owned the restaurant for only about a year before selling it to Jim Gorgusis, who rebranded it as Jim’s Dairy Bar. He ran it until the 1980s, when the building burned down, Lopez says.
But even today, Gaines Lawrence recalls the McCulloughs’ sense of humor when she was tasked with lugging those 100 hamburgers back home: “When I ordered, they always said, ‘Do you want that for here, or to go?’ ”